Time magazine has picked a Person of the Year since 1927 on the basis of who has most affected the world for better or worse. That criterion can make this award a dubious one — Adolf Hitler was chosen Man of the Year in 1938 — but for 2013 the magazine’s choice is definitely for the better: Pope Francis.
It’s been a year full of news, as the names of the runners-up illustrate: Edward Snowden, NSA 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 global institution, Pope Francis 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 on the world stage 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 the princes of the church not to live princely lives. Much of what he has done is not new. His recent apostolic exhortation, for example, was greeted in some quarters as a radical critique of capitalism when, 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.” And that makes this honor sing.