His Holiness, Pope Francis, has been named by Time magazine as their Person of the Year 2013.
Although not meant to be seen as an award – in previous years “winners” have been Joseph Stalin and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – it is still a recognition of political global power and the recipients affect on millions of lives.
Pope Francis is now one of the most widely recognised faces on the planet and one of the most powerful political figures on Earth as the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics across the globe.
Time magazine’s managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, in naming Pope Francis as their person of the year 2013 said:
“Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly – young and old, faithful and cynical – as Pope Francis.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the Papal Conclave to the head of the Catholic Church in March this year and his first words summed up how he would approach the pontificat when he simply said “Pray for me”. The Pope called himself Francis after the humble saint and immediately demonstrated to the world he would be changing the course of the Roman Catholic Church from one of in-fighting at the top back to the the raison d’être of the Church’s existence: to focus on and care for the poor – just as St Francis of Assisi had done. The Pope shunned the papal apartment, washed the feet of prisoners on Maundy Thursday, and embraced a man with a deformed face, pictured above, in St Peter’s Square.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend a General Audience with Pope Francis in July of this year. Before offering prayers and his blessing he toured St Peter’s Square – with little security – to greet 90,000 pilgrims in boiling 40 degree heat.
Pope Francis may not have the ultimate charisma of Pope John Paul II but he does have his ability to reach out past the ornate surrounding of the Holy See and communicate with Catholics and non-Catholics across the world. Although he has only been in post for less than ten months, Pope Francis has managed to re-connect the laymen and women to the Catholic Church once again: the lapsed have started returning to weekly Sunday Mass, over 3 million young people packed Copacabana Beach in Brazil to attend Mass presided over by him, and the pontiff, in line with the Vatican’s historic usage of modern technology, has surpassed 10 million followers on Twitter and is second only to US President Barack Obama for the world leaders with the highest number.
His Holiness’ commitment to the poor and rebuffing of ermine and papal apartments must also be driven through the Curia, the Church’s power base in Rome and governing body run by the elite Cardinals. It is said Pope Benedict XVI no longer had the strength to deal with the in-fighting, and, frankly, corruption within the Curia, which led to his resignation in February this year. Pope Francis’ no-nonsense approach and better management skills may lead to the reform he desires.
But at this moment, Pope Francis, is recognised for getting a grip on a 2,000 year old institution badly damaged by child abuse scandals and has changed the tone from a Church widely thought of as uncaring and corrupt to one of projecting a message of compassion and care for the poor. That is no mean feat and he is rightly recognised as one of the greatest contributors to the year 2013.