Time magazine has named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year," less than nine months after he became pontiff. Whistleblower Edward Snowden picked up the second spot. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was fourth.
Pope Francis won the award precisely because of the short time in which he appeared to have made an impact on the Roman Catholic Church, Time magazine wrote when explaining its choice for "Person of the Year" in 2013.
"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 wrote in its cover story this week.
"In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church - the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world - above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors."
Despite using the plural form of predecessors, the publication appeared to be focused most specifically on Pope Benedict XVI - considering Benedict's predecessor John Paul II was Time's 1994 Person of the Year. Pope John XXIII also won the accolade in 1963.
"It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious recognitions by the international media has been given to a person who proclaims to the world spiritual, religious and moral values and speaks out forcefully in favor of peace and greater justice," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Wednesday.
In less than nine months at the helm, the Argentine pontiff, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has called on the Roman Catholic Church to be "a poor church for the poor," denounced the worldwide "idolatry of money," and sought to highlight the "global scandal" of 1 billion people with too little to eat or drink. He has also shunned the more lavish residence and car usually set aside for the pope.
Snowden, Assad make top 5
Former US National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden was second in Time's annual list, with the magazine simultaneously publishing an exclusive interview conducted by email.
Snowden is currently in Russia after being granted asylum, and he told Time that he had decided to unveil information on espionage activities by US and other intelligence authorities in the hope of prompting reforms to the system.
"What we recoil against is not that such surveillance can theoretically occur, but that it was done without a majority of society even being aware it was possible," Snowden said.
The US gay rights activist Edith Windsor was granted third place, partly for her role in securing a Supreme Court ruling granting same-sex married partnerships the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was next on Time's list, with the magazine writing that he had not just survived another year of civil war but appeared to have turned the tide in his favor.
"The mild-mannered ophthalmologist-turned-Old Testament tyrant has taught his neighbors an ancient lesson: that absolute, unrelenting brutality combined with geostrategic cleverness is the most likely way to retain power in the Middle East," Time wrote, mentioning Assad's background as a doctor specializing in the eyes.
Completing a somewhat controversial top 5 was US Republican Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, who went on a "nationwide tour" in 2013 seeking the abolition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare. Cruz's opposition to the act formed a key component in a US government shutdown earlier this year.
msh/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)