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Pope Francis: Person of the Year

December 17th, 2013by Dan Andriacco

Today is Pope Francis’ 77th birthday! Say a prayer for the Holy Father, and enjoy this post by Dan Andriacco about the pope’s recent Person of the Year recognition.

Time Magazine's person of the yearTime Magazine has named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, only the third pope so honored by the magazine (after Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II). That’s hardly surprising. Who else has captured the attention of the world in 2013 as he has since his election?

Also in the running for the recognition, and in the top 10 possibilities, was singer Miley Cyrus.

Perhaps the greater surprise is that Time’s choice is still considered newsworthy by other media at a time when the magazine itself is something of a relic of the pre-digital age.

“It’s a positive sign that one of the most prestigious recognitions in the international press” goes to a person who “proclaims to the world spiritual, religious and moral values and speaks effectively in favor of peace and greater justice,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombard, the Vatican’s chief spokesperson.

Time’s long story profiling the Argentina-born pontiff, available online, is better than average for what is, essentially, a religion story in the secular media. It’s worth reading. The authors seem to get the difference between Pope Francis’s refreshing style and the substance of Catholic teaching.

Once in a while, though, a few howlers get through, such as: “John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.” That draws a nice contrast, but it’s misleading. One could also say that Pope John Paul II was a former actor and Benedict XVI was a former German soldier in World War II. And by the way, JPII taught philosophy, not theology.

And there’s this: “His vision is of a pastoral—not a doctrinaire—church . . .” What does that even mean? Is there supposed to be a choice between expressing doctrine clearly and showing pastoral concern? Somebody has not been paying attention to the last two popes!

I often note that the secular media tend to cover religion as they do politics, looking at who’s winning, who’s losing, and how this or that faction is playing the game. The Time story is relatively light on that, but we still get: “In any case, Francis needs to keep his predecessor on his side, for it was Benedict who codified the conservative views of John Paul II, the hero of many Catholics, particularly those on the right of the spectrum.” I don’t think that sentence makes much sense.

Nevertheless, “Person of the Year” is a nice honor, Pope Francis deserves it more than anyone else in the world, and the Time story does a better job than I expected of profiling the Francis revolution while being on balance respectful and appreciative of the Catholic Church and its history. What more could we Catholics ask for?

Dan Andriacco

Dan Andriacco has been communications director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 1997. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Religion from the Athenaeum of Ohio and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. He has written five published mystery novels and three other books.