The announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen as Time Magazines ‘person of the year’ marks an incredible turnaround in the public perception of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II was also given this title in 1994 – in recognition of his moral leadership and role in the downfall of Communism and after he had been Pope for 16 years (Pope John XIII was also in 1962). It is quite remarkable that Francis got it before he had even completed a year of his pontificate. Time describes him as a “septuagenarian superstar” who “makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office”. It is worth noting that his biggest critics seem to be from within the church particularly from the right. I was told by one of our students that he is not going down very well in Poland where the church is still riddled with clericalism. Maybe aware of these internal critics – many of them who seem to be digital pharisees – the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi SJ, said that Francis wasn’t looking for Time’s recognition, but if it gave people hope, then the Pontiff was happy.
What is the hope based on? Perhaps it is simply leadership. It is interesting that the day after the Mandela Memorial – when Barack Obama has sharp words for some of the worlds leaders “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people….. There are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard” It was notable that the assembled crowds booed their own president Jacob Zuma who has been accused of wide-spread corruption. The Pope Francis vote seems to be against a background of weak-leadership in the world. Times managing editor, Nancy Ellis, confirmed this by writing, “At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge,”
Ad Multos Annos