In choosing Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, Time magazine dared to commit an almost unthinkable act in modern-day journalism.
It chose to celebrate hope — and civility.
A key phrase in its long cover story, written by Howard Chua-Eoan and Elizabeth Dias: “This new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars.”
Time’s choice has launched countless critics, of course. I, too, lament that only five women have made the stand-alone cut. I understand why National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s runner-up finish set off a round of criticism steeped in disbelief from his defenders.
Nevertheless, I think Time got this one just right.
I am not Catholic and have been critical of the Church for mishandling the pedophile sex scandal and its backward views of women and the gay community. There are always more battles to be won.
But Time’s decision to honor this gentle warrior for social and economic justice speaks to a national yearning.
Any journalist willing to talk to people outside the Beltway knows this to be true: The majority of citizens have had it with the state of discourse in this country, particularly in our nation’s capital. People are hurting, and they are desperate for reasons to hope.
As Time’s story noted, the Pope is cannier than his gentle demeanor suggests:
“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.'”
And then he took on capitalism.
“We also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” he wrote. “Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
It’s enough to take our breath away.