What a year for Pope Francis: From unknown to Time’s Person of the Year

(NBC News) It’s been a whirlwind year for Pope Francis.

He started 2013 as a relatively unknown Argentinian archbishop but ended it as the beloved leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and Time’s Person of the Year.

As Time magazine puts it, “the septuagenarian superstar is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.”

And change, with Pope Francis, came overnight.

He took over a church rocked by atrocious infighting, marred by child-abuse scandals, embarrassed by private memos leaked by the previous pope’s own butler, and shocked by the first abdication of a pontiff in almost 600 years.

The new pope had almost an impossible task ahead of him: Resurrect confidence in the Roman Catholic Church that looked lost and arcane.

Against the odds, Pope Francis seems to have worked a miracle so far.

Pope Francis in a matter of months has reformed the image of the Catholic Church from an unapproachable, extravagant, institution into a humble champion of the poor.

He’s done this by renouncing clerical privilege, washing the feet of female convicts, jumping off the once bullet-proof “pope mobile” to kiss the disabled, relaxing the conservative rhetoric on homosexuals and divorcees, and promoting a more prominent role for women in the church.

“What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all,” Time magazine wrote.

George Weigel, NBC’s Vatican analyst, said he is surprised by Time’s choice, but not by the reasons behind it.

The magazine’s managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, tells Matt Lauer that Pope Francis was selected for changing the tone of the Vatican.

“This always tends to go to a political figure, statesman, someone who is in the headlines as a person of power…and Pope Francis is none of those,” said Weigel. “I am not surprised that the pope has captured the world’s imagination in a singular way, and I think it has reminded the world it needs a pastor, whether the world wants it or not.” [More]


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