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Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff who won hearts and headlines with his humility and common touch, was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013, the magazine revealed Wednesday on TODAY.
The iconic title goes every year to the individual chosen by Time editors as someone who has had the most impact on the world and the news — for better or worse — over the past year.
Pope Francis stood out "as someone who has changed the tone and perception and focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way," Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs said Wednesday.
"So much of what he has done in his brief nine months in office has really changed the tone that is coming out of the Vatican. He is saying, 'We are about the healing mission of the church, and not about the theological police work that had maybe been preoccupying us.'"
The magazine staff makes the ultimate decision, Gibbs said, but they poll readers and take public opinion into account. This was the third time Time named a pope as its Person of the Year.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told TODAY in a statement that "the Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors. 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."
The Argentinian was elected pope in March, just weeks after the surprise abdication of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict. He quickly reshaped the public image of the papacy, challenging Catholics and Protestants alike on the interpretation of Church dogma on issues ranging from homosexuality to capitalism.
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, one of the nation’s leading Catholic clerics, said the pope has “captivated the world” since he first became a household name earlier this year.
“In all that he does, through his humble ways and simple lifestyle, Pope Francis clearly radiates the joy that comes from loving God and caring for his people,” Dolan said in a statement. "There could be no finer choice for ‘Person of the Year.’"
Pope Francis beat out several other heavyweights on the short list for the title, including the person who held it in 2012, President Obama.
Edward Snowden, an American fugitive and former National Security Administration contractor who leaked thousands of top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs, ranked second in Time’s list.
Rounding out the top five were gay rights activist Edith Windsor, whose Supreme Court victory led to the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act; Syrian President Bashar Assad, for the role he played in his nation’s civil war; and Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican known for his filibustering skills.
"It was a very interesting choice this year," Gibbs said.
Pope Francis won the popular vote on TODAY.com, with an overwhelming 59 percent.