Here’s how Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time magazine, explains it: “For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is Time’s 2013 Person of the Year.”
Compare that to Sarah Palin’s remarks about the pope being “too liberal” and Rush Limbaugh’s histrionic response that the pope is a “Marxist” simply because he has asked us to redirect our attention to the poor and disenfranchised.
Personally, I think he is doing precisely what any Christian leader ought to be doing, and it’s weird that some of us are put off or even threatened by that. I mean, the pope is advocating for those in need and admonishing the greedy. Isn’t that the Christian thing to do?
At the same time, I don’t think that Pope Francis should get any more power to spread his message than some TV coverage and the bully pulpit; it’s never a good idea when a religious leader is in charge of, for example, the armed forces or a political system.
However, like his predecessors, the pope has a big voice and a huge audience, and he’s chosen to use both in favor of people who have neither. That’s power enough, I believe.
I applaud the pope when he says we need to stop focusing on abortion and homosexuality. I don’t think he’s necessarily abandoning these issues entirely; he’s merely trying to push them down on the world’s agenda so that the more pressing problems of global inequality and human suffering can claim a higher spot. As reported, the pope sees the Church as a field hospital with high cholesterol.
And he’s right to do this. In terms of size, the number of those affected by starvation, cruelty, war, disease, poverty and lack of opportunities dwarfs the number of people in the world affected by abortion and gay marriage. And you can certainly make the argument that homosexuality in particular is not a source of human suffering.
As heated as the debate over gay marriage can get, same-sex couples do not inspire trauma or violence, unless of course you happen to walk over to that dark side on your own steam and legs.
I don’t know what the pope’s message to the world will be on Christmas Day, but from the looks of it, he’s all in. Therefore, I hope that on that day of family, joy, gifts and glitter, he maintains our focus on the people who don’t have access to those things, because they, too, are worthy of our attention and compassion.
For now, Pope Francis seems to be the best person to exert that kind of moral authority, not because he’s the pope, but because he walks the talk and doesn’t get self-righteous about it. His vision is simple and straightforward – we are our brothers’ keepers – and he’s unwavering on that point. I don’t think anyone in recent memory has made it any plainer.