Pope Francis is Time’s 2013 ‘Person of the Year’

By Steve Cohn

On Dec. 11, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs announced the selection of Pope Francis as the magazine’s 87th Person of the Year. In the nine months since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected by the College of Cardinals to succeed the retiring Benedict XVI, Francis has "not changed the words" of the Roman Catholic Church, "but he’s changed the music," writes Gibbs in the Dec. 23 news package.  "When he rejects [the Vatican’s] pomp and the privilege, releases information on [the Church’s] finances for the first time…offers to baptize a baby of a divorced woman whose married lover wanted her to abort it, he is doing more than modeling mercy and transparency. He is embracing complexity and acknowledging the risk that a church obsessed with its own rights and righteousness could inflict more wounds than it heals."

Francis becomes the third pope to be Person of the Year following John XXII in 1962 (for initiating Church reforms–such as ending the Latin mass–through Vatican 2) and John Paul II in 1994 (for his being a huge influence on ending communism in his native Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe). He follows the reelected President Barack Obama in 2012.

He was also the first selection by Gibbs, who succeeded Rick Stengel in September and became the magazine’s first female managing editor.  But in writing several Person of the Year profiles during her 28 years at Time, Gibbs knows the process very well.

A newer Time tradition is Person of the Year runners-up, and those acknowledged in 2013 are:

Edward Snowden (National Security Agency leaker and whistle-blower)
Ted Cruz (Texas U.S. senator and the new voice of the Tea Party movement)
Bashar al-Assad (leader of the civil-war-torn Syria)
Edith Windsor (the 84-year-old symbol of the increasingly accepted gay-rights movement)