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Why TIME Was Right to Name Pope Francis ‘Person of the Year’

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The man loves his public…

Don’t know about you guys, but we totally saw this coming.

Journalists are already busy criticizing TIME‘s decision to name Pope Francis its 2013 “Person of the Year” over NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Did TIME play it somewhat safe with this choice? Sure. But we also think they got it right. For context, the mag’s readers chose Miley as POY, so think about that for a quick second before you forget it forever.

Why did Pontifex get the nod? Here’s an explanation from managing editor Nancy Gibbs and deputy managing editor Radhika Jones:

“He immediately made his presence felt in a way that felt different from Popes in recent memory…he’s in a position of immense power, but he introduced himself as a man of great humility.”

He has positioned himself as a facilitator of ongoing conversations addressing the very biggest of issues: wealth inequality, gender relations, changing perceptions of sexuality and the family unit, and the universal human desire for basic dignity in the face of intractable conflict.

Snowden quite obviously “disrupted the system”, but Francis did so in a more visible and arguably positive way. We’re most interested in his approach, which can somehow be classified as both “quiet” and louder than any single event or news story could ever be. Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance apply to everyone as well but, like it or not, they were most influential among the media community and those who follow international politics closely. Many saw the leak story as a simple “I knew it” confirmation of their long-held suspicions about the negative influence of the modern security state.

The very fact that “unlikely activistEdith Windsor, the name behind the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, appears on the same list as a religious leader seen as “liberal” despite his adamant opposition to female priests, birth control and gay marriage highlights the essential roles both play in the changing of societal norms around the globe. Snowden, Francis and Windsor each contributed to that larger conversation in their own ways, so we feel confident in saying that they were indeed three of the most influential people in the world this year.

Francis himself deserves most of the credit for his own win, but now is the perfect time to ponder the role played by his American-born PR “guru” Greg Burke and to reflect again on the reasons why we think he should be the patron saint of communications.

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