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The pope makes it on Time

HONG KONG (SE): Time magazine has named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, as he approaches the first Christmas and New Year celebration of his pontificate, which began on March 13 this year.

On December 13, he was also nominated for the prestigious international journalism award Argil: European Man. The award will be made during January next year.

But why is such a new player on the world stage being honoured so highly, so quickly?

“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,” the editors of Time say in their citation for the prestigious award.

Pope Francis is described as a man who, as the archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, was seen to be running out of steam as he approached retirement age.

Nevertheless, he was known as a bishop and pastor who regularly walked, in an increasingly plodding fashion, to the metro station, rode on trams and visited his people in some of the most fetid and violent slums in the world, and then transformed himself into an energetic and inspirational leader of the Catholic Church worldwide.

“But 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,” the citation says.

“People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while ‘the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed’” (John Milton).

Compared with his erudite predecessors, who the citation notes contributed in an important way to development in theological thought, it likens Pope Francis to a janitor, who has elevated the healing ministry of the Church, imaging it as a servant and comforter.

But at the same time, he is cited as an uncanny operator, who performs his first century office in an outstandingly powerful and communicative 21st century manner.

It further notes that Pope Francis is a source of hope to all, as people in various relationships with the Church—be they as a minister in a slum, struggling rural area, middle class parish, bishop or aspiring civil servant in the Vatican—can all hope for some fulfillment of their dreams under Pope Francis.

“If somehow by his own vivid example, Francis could bring the Church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good,” the editors of Time say.

His epitaph may well be, “Argue less, accomplish more.”

The Vatican Insider says that Pope Francis is a great religious communicator because he describes how God speaks to us through daily events and pushes us towards a spiritual experience that gives current affairs more substance.

It adds that he teaches us to listen to and see God, who never tires of acting in every moment of our lives and history.

While it remains to be seen whether his words will have any impact on those who disagree with him or whose interests he threatens, the widespread acceptance of him may well give courage to those who have remained silent to speak out—especially the poor of the world.

As only the third pope in history to be honoured with the Person of the Year cover by Time magazine, the question, “Why this year?” can well be asked about the choice. points out that Pope Francis is enjoying unprecedented popularity in the United States of America (US), with an amazing 92 per cent approval rating, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll.

Pope Benedict XVI never got past 75 per cent and even the mercurial Pope John Paul II only notched 87 per cent.

Even more to the point, 95 per cent of US Catholics give him the tick of approval.

In addition, across the board 62 per cent of the population gives Catholicism a tick of approval, the highest since 1999. Sixty-four per cent like the way the Church is moving and 85 per cent of Catholics voted the same way.

Amidst such frenzy, there are a lot of reasons for a US magazine to choose Pope Francis as its pinup boy for the year.

On top of this, Time has a worldwide audience and it is not only the US where the pope is rating high in the popularity stakes.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press officer, noted, “This fact is unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate.”

He called it a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice.

However, the time is still ripe for popularity, as to date, while Pope Francis has talked a lot and set a very definite path for the direction of his leadership, especially in what he does, nothing has yet changed.

Next year there will be a synod on the family, which no doubt will leave some happy and others disappointed or disaffected. Next year may not be the year to put a pope on the front cover of Time.

He came in against a varied slate of candidates. Edward Snowden, for his exposé of intelligence operations; a senator from the US, Ted Cruz; Syria’s controversial Bashar al-Assad; gay rights crusader, Edith Windsor; and pop entertainer, Miley Cyrus; were all considered.

While al-Assad may have a big role to play in the achievement of peace in the Middle East, he would have been a feel-bad, rather than a feel-good choice.

Pope Francis joins a long list of world leaders since Time magazine began making the award in 1927, many of whom promised much in terms of new paradigms of international cooperation and freedom, but achieved little, and others who served with distinction to the end.

Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower figured prominently at the end of World War II, as did Nikita Khruschev during the Cold War.

Adolph Hitler was chosen in 1938, at a time when a different vision of him was abroad. Others who opened up borders, like Deng Xiaoping, share the honour, as did the queen of England, Elizabeth II, in 1952, and the post martial law president of The Philippines, Cory Aquino, in 1986.

The trade union leader from Poland, Lech Walesa, featured before he became president.

Closer to home, while never being a Person of the Year, the project officer from the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, Jackie Hung Ling-yu, did make the list of Time’s Asian Heroes in 2004 for her role in the struggle for democracy with the Civil Human Rights Front.

However, Father Lombardi had the last word on behalf of the pope, saying, “He does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the gospel and the love of God for all.”


He concluded, “If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the pope is content. If this nomination as Person of the Year means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad.”

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