Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year

Time cover page

Time magazine has called Pope Francis a septuagenarian superstar and the People's Pope. 'With a focus on compassion, the leader of the Catholic Church has become a new voice of conscience, writes Time. This article explores the reasons for his selection.

- By By Howard Chua-Eoan and Elizabeth Dias for Time.

On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the ­pasaje—Spanish for passage—where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire.

Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K. Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks. The word asesino—­murderer—is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.

As Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a metropolis of some 13.5 million souls, Jorge Mario Bergoglio made room in his schedule every year for a pastoral visit to this place of squalor and sorrow.­ He would walk to the subway station nearest to the Metropolitan Cathedral, whose pillars and dome fit easily into the center of Argentine power. Travelling alone, he would transfer onto a graffiti-blasted tram to Mariano Acosta, reaching where the subways do not go. He finished the journey on foot, moving heavily in his bulky black orthopedic shoes along Pasaje C.

On other days, there were other journeys to barrios throughout the city—so many in need of so much, but none too poor or too filthy for a visit from this itinerant prince of the church. 'Reza por mí,'  he asked almost everyone he met. Pray for me.

When, on March 13, Bergoglio inherited the throne of St. Peter—keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven—he made the same request of the world: Pray for me. His letter of retirement, a requirement of all bishops 75 and older, was already on file in a Vatican office, awaiting approval. Friends in Argentina had perceived him to be slowing down, like a spent force. In an instant, he was a new man, calling himself Francis after the humble saint from Assisi.

As Pope, he was suddenly the sovereign of Vatican City and head of an institution so ­sprawling—with about enough followers to populate China—so steeped in order, so snarled by bureaucracy, so vast in its charity, so weighted by its scandals, so polarising to those who study its teachings, so mysterious to those who don’t, that the gap between him and the daily miseries of the world’s poor might finally have seemed unbridgeable. Until the 266th Supreme Pontiff walked off in those clunky shoes to pay his hotel bill.

The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself. And it raises hopes in every corner of the world—hopes that can never be fulfilled, for they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest both have hopes. The ambitious monsignor in the Vatican Curia and the evangelising deacon in a remote Filipino village both have hopes. No Pope can make them all happy at once.

But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the Church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), 'the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.' In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the Church—the Church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.

And behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator. He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office. He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face. He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, 'Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?' Of gay people: 'If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.' To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite 'is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak....'

PHOTO: Cover of yesterday's Time magazine.

READ FULL ARTICLE: http://poy.time.com/2013/12/11/person-of-the-year-pope-francis-the-peoples-pope/ (Time)

RELATED COVERAGE:

Pope Francis named Time magazine's Person of the Year (BBC)

Pope Francis is a whistleblower for the poor (The Guardian)

Pope's view of the Gospel is fresh and passionate, writes Oxford Jesuit (jesuit.org.uk)

Watch: Pope Francis Time's 'Person of the Year' (CNN)

Watch: Rome Celebrates Pope Francis (CNN)

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