Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award is given to the individual Time’s writing staff believes had the most influence on the world during a certain year. It is important to note that the award is for most influence, not most positive influence. This year’s winner, Pope Francis—whether or not one sides with his progressive opinions—certainly fits the description of most influential person.
Pope Francis is not one to stick to tradition. He has only been pope for a little under a year and already he is one of the most influential religious figures in history. His attitudes towards homosexuality, among other things, have left the door open for drastic changes in the way the Catholic church relates to the outside world.
For so long the Church has seemingly been oblivious to the changing opinions of its faithful followers, sticking with old, traditionalist doctrines that focus on small details rather than the large, overarching themes of Catholicism.
In an October mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis proclaimed, “What kind of love do we bring to others? . . . Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another?” Concerning poverty, the pope wrote last year, “How could it be that it’s not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
However, it is important to note that Pope Francis has not actually changed any doctrine or altered a rule that allows homosexuals or priests to marry.
He said in a public statement that “for the moment” he was in favor of maintaining the celibacy rule that states priests cannot marry “because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures.”
He also holds views that are considered conservative on some issues, like abortion.
On September 20, 2013 Pope Francis denounced abortion, calling it “a symptom of today’s throwaway culture,” and encouraged Catholic doctors not to perform abortions on their patients.
But the reason why the Pope has not made any real, quantifiable changes to the Catholic church is because he is up against centuries of tradition and culture that continually turned a blind eye to the evolving world. Also, he is still surrounded by conservative cardinals and bishops in the Vatican and offending them could mean the loss of his job.
But even putting that aside, his views on homosexuality alone are enough to vault him to Person of the Year status. No one else in that high ranking of a position has been so progressive in thought.
The most intriguing aspect about Pope Francis is how human he has shown himself to be. Ironically, he does not try to be God. He even has a sense of humor.
In speaking about his consideration to drop the iconic mitre that popes have historically worn, he said, “I know I’m going to catch hell for saying this, but it looks kind of dumb. Besides, you expect me to believe God really cares if I wear a big pointy hat or not? Come on. If a lightning bolt comes out of the sky and cracks St. Peter’s in two, then I guess we’ll know it was a bad idea.”
Here is the leader of the Catholic church, joking about God sending down lightning.He also admitted to a boyhood crush while he was in Jesuit school training to become a priest.
“I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding,” he said, according to Aleteia. “I was surprised by her beauty, her intellectual brilliance… and, well, I was bowled over for quite a while. I kept thinking and thinking about her… I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing.”
While the Pope is “coming out” on views of gay people, equally impressive is his reliability and transparency to the public. He does not beat around the bush or try to suppress his surprisingly witty sense of humor. That is what appeals followers who may not agree with his idealism. He gains their respect because he seems to be a genuinely likable guy. He has let a baby play around with his skullcap. He has taken a selfie with teenagers. He joked about God striking him with lightning. Most importantly, his open-mindedness to modern ethical issues might save the Catholic church from irrelevancy.