Whether you believe that he is a man touched by God, or just a man, Pope Francis is a remarkable one. In December, Time magazine named him “Person of the Year” for 2013. Now, whether one belongs to the Roman Catholic Church or not, people should respect the decision of Time because, as far as I’m concerned, they don’t name just anybody “Person of the Year.” Time awards the title to the person that “for better or for worse ... has done the most to influence the events of the year.” The award is generally the province of U.S. presidents, world leaders, legendary businesspeople and activists and even other popes (two have been recognized previously), but no pope has ever been recognized without even a full year on the job. What has Pope Francis been doing to deserve this recognition? As a practicing Catholic myself, even I was astonished to find out some of these facts about the leader of the Catholic Church.
For starters, not only is he the first Latin American pope, but Francis is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived a simple life in Argentina, working as a janitor, nightclub bouncer and teacher, among other jobs, before being ordained a priest at the age of 33. He joined the Jesuit order, a branch of the Catholic Church dedicated to education, evangelization, social justice and Christian unity — all things that shine through Francis to this day. Even after becoming archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, Francis continued taking public transportation and living in a simple apartment on the same block as the cathedral, rather than in the luxurious archdiocesan residence.
The word “pope” has always triggered the same image in my head. I picture an out-of-touch elderly man who handles most of his papal duties behind the scenes and is barely able to impart his wisdom and share his experience with the world. While appointed leader of the faith, a pope is not always connected to their constituents in a meaningful way. Doctrine is great, but our society now expects leaders to be genuine and to communicate with us in ways we understand. Pope Francis has changed my view of what a pope can be and represent. He’s bringing everything to the front: stepping out, washing the feet of convicts, embracing people with illness, talking about homosexuality. He is calling for greater tenderness, mercy and compassion, as well as promoting peace negotiations and interfaith dialogue. Concerning women who consider getting an abortion because of poverty or rape, he asks, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”
This stuff is a big deal and it is an important dialogue to have, rather than just burying our heads in doctrine or “the way it’s always been.”
Pope Francis chose his name after Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor. Like Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis is making the most vulnerable members of society his focus, thus truly embodying the name and deserving the title given to him by Time.
Hey, he piqued the interest of a high schooler — albeit via a magazine on the coffee table — but that’s still saying something. I couldn’t ask for more in a leader — someone to whom I want to listen. Regardless of faith, his principles make sense and are important. I don’t know if he’s my or the world’s 2013 Person of the Year, but he is influential, relevant and talking about real issues.
Mari Andreatta is a junior at Notre Dame High School in Belmont. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.