Time magazine has named a Person of the Year since 1927, based on who has most affected the world during the year, for better or worse. That criterion can make the award dubious; Adolf Hitler was chosen in 1938. This year, Time’s choice is much better: Pope Francis.
The year was packed with news, as the names of the runners-up illustrate: Edward Snowden, government secrets leaker; Edith Windsor, gay rights activist; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, champion of government shutdown; and Syrian president Bashar Assad, butcher of his people.
Thank God for the better choice. As the leader of a huge global institution, Pope Francis clearly had the edge in the potential for influence. But he has earned the world’s respect in a remarkable way.
As Time noted, rarely has a new figure attracted so much attention so quickly. “In his nine months in office,” the magazine said, “he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice...”
He has done it by shedding the trappings of his office, by reaching out to marginalized people, and by telling princes of the church not to live princely lives.
Much of what he has done is not new. His recent apostolic exhortation was greeted in some quarters as a radical critique of capitalism. In fact, it did not depart from past church teachings.
But as Time rightly said: “[H]e has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music.” That makes this honor sing.