NEW YORK (AP/CBSDFW.COM) - Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year on Wednesday, saying the Catholic Church's new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.
Also on the list of finalists with the pope, freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
The former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March as the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since taking over at the Vatican, he has urged the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with "small-minded rules" and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception.
He has denounced the world's "idolatry of money" and the "global scandal" that nearly 1 billion people today go hungry, and has charmed the masses with his simple style and wry sense of humor. His appearances draw tens of thousands of people and his @Pontifex Twitter account recently topped 10 million followers.
"He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way," said Nancy Gibbs, the magazine's managing editor.
The Vatican said the honor wasn't surprising given the resonance in the general public that Francis has had, but it nevertheless said the choice was a "positive" recognition of spiritual values in the international media.
"The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. "But if the choice of Person of Year helps spread the message of the Gospel - a message of God's love for everyone - he will certainly be happy about that."
It was the third time a Catholic pope had been Time's selection. John Paul II was selected in 1994 and John XXIII was chosen in 1962.
In Argentina on Wednesday, Padre Toto, one of the many "slum priests" the pope supported for years as archbishop of Buenos Aires, praised Time magazine's selection.
"I think the recognition of Time magazine is good news, because Pope Francis embodies one of the values of a church that's more missionary, closer to the people, more austere, more in keeping with the gospel," Toto said. "He had the genius of knowing how to express this sense of the church and hopefully his way of being will catch on with other political leaders, business executives, sports figures. His leadership is inspiring."
Besides the Pope, Time had narrowed its top ten finalists down to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, gay rights activist Edith Windsor, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, Singer Miley Cyrus, President Barack Obama, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Cruz, Snowden, Windor and Assad joined the Pope on the list of the final five.
Time editors make the selection, which the magazine has given out every year since 1927. The magazine polled readers for their choice, and the winner was Egyptian General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who didn't even make the top 10 of Time's final list.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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