These days it is bracing to hear a leader say anything that annoys anyone. Now liberals and conservatives alike face a choice as they listen to a new voice of conscience: Which matters more, that this charismatic leader is saying things they think need to be said or that he is also saying things they’d rather not hear?
The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. 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.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor, The Huffington Post:
But why? I think it is because he is so refreshingly different from what people have become accustomed to associate with religious leaders. Religious and non-religious people alike have been bitterly disappointed with the judgmentalism, the sectarian righteousness, the unabashed commercialization, banal spirituality and otherworldly concerns of so many religious leaders and their followers in all different traditions.
Pope Francis resonates with so many people because he actually lives up to the highest ideals of religion which challenges us to think both about our personal spiritual life alongside the concerns of the “other.” Pope Francis is viewed as authentic, the real deal, a true religious leader because he proclaims a radical call to justice for those most vulnerable and peace between nations and individuals in this world within the framework of an orthodox religious faith. Pope Francis combines the the social gospel with personal piety in a complete package of the religious ideal.
Related, Americans as a whole approve of the Pope Francis, as reported in The Washington Post:
Among Catholics, 92 percent have a favorable view of Francis and 95 percent say the same of the church, a poll released Wednesday finds. Francis’ popularity marks a large increase from former Pope Benedict’s 73 percent favorable rating in a February Post-ABC poll just after he announced his retirement….
Non-Catholics also voice largely positive views of Francis — 62 percent favorable and 18 percent unfavorable; 21 percent have yet to form an opinion. Benedict drew only 48 percent favorable views among non-Catholics immediately after announcing his resignation in February, while 31 percent saw him unfavorably.
Pope Francis was also Facebook’s most popular topic in 2013. From The Independent:
Social media phenomenon Pope Francis was the most popular topic globally on Facebook, ahead of the royal baby Prince George, the Harlem Shake and controversial US star Miley Cyrus.
The new charismatic pontiff is a champion of the poor and has clearly lifted the gloom felt by the Catholic Church which was under siege from scandal. Whether he was making friendly overtures to other faiths or embracing a man severely disfigured by disease – Francis drove more conversation than anyone else in 2013.