Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff, elected nine months ago, was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013, leaving whistleblower Edward Snowden in second place, the magazine revealed on Wednesday.
The iconic title goes each year to the one chosen by prominent US magazine Time as the individual who had the most influence on the world and news over the year.
"For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME's 2013 Person of the Year," as managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, explained the magazine’s choice.
“He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing.”
“The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century,” Time wrote about the Argentinian, who outran former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who took second place.
The Vatican reacted to the news saying that the pontiff is not looking for fame.
“The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors. But if the choice of Person of the Year helps spread the message of the gospel - a message of God's love for everyone - he will certainly be happy about that" said Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, as cited by “Today”.
Following Pope Benedict’s resignation, the first retirement from the holy post in 600 years, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina became the first Latin American pope in history.
Pope Francis has been at the center of public attention since he took office in March, showing more openness, compared to the previous pontiffs.
Since then he has shaped the global conversation on religion, urging the Church to be more welcoming, less cold and dogmatic.
First, the Pope criticized the Church which had "locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules" and should not be so prone to condemn.
Then the pontiff, called the people’s pope, caused surprise with his words about women and abortions due to poverty or rape, saying “who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?"
Or by his attitude towards homosexuality: ‘If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.”
These words contrast starkly the position of his predecessor, Benedict, who fiercely condemned gay rights, calling same-sex relationships an intrinsic disorder.
The people appreciate Pope Francis, who turns 77 next Tuesday, for his modesty. For instance, he refused to use the traditional Mercedes previous popes drove, in favor of a 1984 Renault 4 economy car. Meanwhile, as a cardinal he is said to have used the subway.
His public acts of humility, from washing the feet of criminals to embracing a disfigured man, have reshaped the attitudes of many people to the Catholic Church.
"What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all," Time said in its cover story.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) December 11, 2013
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 11, 2013
Following Snowden in the top 5 were gay rights activist Edith Windsor, who took her fight all the way to the US Supreme Court and won, securing marriage for same-sex couples in the United States at a federal level.
Next up was Syrian President Bashar Assad, nominated for his role in his country’s civil war. And then Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz famous for filibustering skills.
The tradition of selecting a "Person of the Year" began in 1927, with the aviator Charles Lindbergh on the cover, following his historic trans-Atlantic flight. Since the list began, every serving US President has been a person of the year at least once, except Calvin Coolidge (who was in office at time of the first issue), Herbert Hoover, and Gerald Ford. Three popes, including Francis, have also been on the cover of the magazine as people of the year.