Once there was a boy so meek and modest, he was awarded a Most Humble badge. The next day, it was taken away because he wore it. Here endeth the lesson.” And here endeth the opening quote from TIME’s story to announce Pope Francis as the Person of the Year for 2013. Nancy Gibbs continues:
How do you practice humility from the most exalted throne on earth? Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis. In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.
For all of these reasons and more, he is a natural and obvious choice for this distinction.
The world reacted with shock when, on March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as the 266th pope. However, through the opening months of his reign, he is proving to be exactly what the Roman Catholic Church needed, even if he wasn’t initially what many Catholics wanted. The church has been hit hard by scandal and by the perception that Catholicism is an ancient and obsolete faith with little ability to speak to modern controversies: homosexuality, female clergy, abortion, contraception, and the like. Francis has breathed life into the church and aroused the adoration of the people he leads.
Francis follows the forgettable Benedict XVI who was more of a scholar than a pope of or for the people. Of course Benedict had the difficult task of following the much-loved John Paul II, a man who casts a long shadow.
Francis has been handed the impossible and unenviable task of representing Catholics on every end of the spectrum, from those who want the church to return to its oldest beliefs and oldest forms of worship, to those who want to liberalize the church and to embrace the spirit of the age in every part. A second article from TIME explains the impossibility of his task despite early success and adulation. He brings hope, but irreconcilable hope, to the “elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest.” If he succeeds with one, he will necessarily fail with the other. Not surprisingly, he is guarded with his words.
He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Yet even while he has avoided speaking bluntly to many of the most pressing issues, he has been masterful in his actions. “He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face.” He makes full use of new media and does so with skill.
The fact is, Pope Francis has taken the Roman Catholic Church by storm and the whole world is watching. Just yesterday Facebook announced that he was the most talked about topic on Facebook worldwide this year. He is Christendom’s newest and biggest celebrity. His reach, his power, his popularity are unparalleled.