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Pontiff named Time Magazine's Man of the Year

By Miriam Raftery

January 2014 (Rome)--On New Year’s Day at the Vatican, Pope Francis issued an impassioned plea for world peace.  He told the thousands of faithful gathered there that we are all part of the same human family, and we share a common destiny.

“This brings a responsibility for each to work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other’s diversity, and takes care of one another,” the Pope said.

Then he did a remarkable thing.  Pope Francis laid aisde his prepared speech, and asked, “What is happening in the heart of man? What is happening in the heart of humanity?”  Deploring the violence in nations around the world, he said, “It’s time to stop.”

He urged that the “gospel of brotherhood speak to every conscience and knock down thew alls that impede enemies from recognizing that they are brothers.”

Pope Francis, who has been an outspoken advocate for the poor and downtrodden, also denounced injustices present in so many parts of the world.  For the coming year, he implored, “There is the need for the commitment of all to build a society that is truly more just and united.”

The Argentine pontiff formerly known Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope and the first pope who is not European.  He is also the first pope to take the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the poor and a saint known for promoting peace.

Time Magazine has named Pope Francis the magazine’s Person of the Year, calling him a “new voice of conscience.” 

Time’s managing editor Nancy Gibbs explained the choice this way. “In his n ine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparence, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power,” she wrote. “When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic church.”

His dedication to humility and the fight against poverty affirmed his choice as Man of the Year, Time concluded.

The Pope has practiced what he preaches, even bringing homeless people to dine with him at the Vatican and compelling a papal representative to go out into the streets and find poor people in need, then offer them help on an individual basis.

Pope Francis has sparked controversy in some quarters with his denouncement of trickle down economics revered by many conservatives, though he has disappointed some liberals in affirming that the priesthood should be reserved for m en and standing firm against abortion and gay marriage.  But he has shown tolerance toward all, saying of gay and lesbian individuals, “Who am I to judge?”  and suggesting that the church should dwell less on divisive issues such as abortion and calling on all Christians to help those in need.  He also established a committee to combat child abuse, seeking to protect children in the wake of the priest pedophilia scandal that has rocked the church.

The first major writing by Pope Francis was an apostolic exhortation in which he denounced by name the “tyranny” of  capitalism and the trickle-down economics theory.   “Just as the commandment Thou shalt not kill sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say thou shalt not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” the Pope continued, likening today’s worship of money to the ancient golden calf.  

He added that this has led to a “globalization of indifference…Almost without being aware of it it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion and the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”  So he added “while the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.“

He chided a culture of consumerism and speculation in the financial markets, but also took political leaders to task.

“Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless,” Pope Francis observed.  “All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries—in their governments, businesses and institutions, whatever the political ideology of their leaders.”

On New Year’s Day, Pope Francis called on people around the world to listen – listen to and heed the “cry of peace” from people who are suffering.