Pope Francis as Time Man of the Year, Aleteia Interview, December 11, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Interview with Aleteia on Pope Francis’ Having Been Named Time Magazine Man of the Year
December 11, 2013

Are you surprised Pope Francis was picked?

Time Magazine made the right call. Francis has captured the attention and hearts not only of Catholics, but so many non-Catholics, and even so many media members who were previously dismissive or hardened against religion in general and the Church in particular. When you look at the other finalists — an NSA whistleblower, a gay activist, a Middle-eastern dictator, and a Republican politician — the decision was a no-brainer. None has had anywhere near the global impact Pope Francis has had in his first nine months as pope.

Was Pope Francis chosen for the right reasons? Was he represented well in the Time cover story?

Time‘s Nancy Gibbs and Howard Chua-Eoan said that he was chosen for the distinction because he had become a “new voice of conscience,” pulling the papacy “out of the palace and into the streets,” “changing the way we think about the Church,” drawing “a vast, global ecumenical audience” to follow him, and giving “so many people so much hope and inspiration in the last nine months,” something “no one else has done” this year. Those are all reasons that should fill us with joy.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Church and her mission of evangelization?

It’s certainly an opportunity for the Church that so many are paying attention to what Pope Francis is saying and doing. But whether it turns out to be good or bad depends on whether people — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — go from being idle observers and cheerleaders to those who act on Pope Francis’ words and imitate his loving deeds. It’s great that people admire Pope Francis, because admiration is certainly a start on the road to conversion. But it’s important to get beyond mere veneration. The reason why Pope Francis is so inspiring, I think, is because he reminds us of Jesus Christ, his love and his truth. And if Pope Francis does not succeed in helping those who admire him to come to a life-changing, joy-filled encounter with Jesus Christ, then his celebrity in the long run is not particularly helpful.

Pope Francis is set to canonize the only other popes to have been Times‘s Person of the Year (John XXIII and John Paul II). How is Francis alike and different from them?

Pope Francis is certainly like both of them in his deep Catholic faith, his trust in Jesus’ truth, and his desire to put his command to love into practice. He also shares with both a capacity to lead boldly, precipitating paradigm shifts that are both faithful to the deposit of the faith but also apposite to the changing circumstances of the time. With John Paul II he shares incredible charisma and great courage. With John XXIII he shares a radiant sense of joy and humor. The biggest differences from both of them come from his path to the papacy and how that life-experience obviously influences how one lives out his discipleship and priesthood as the Bishop of Rome. John XXIII was influenced by the ravages of two World Wars, John Paul II by the evil of Communism. Francis has been influenced most, I think, by his Jesuit formation and by the endemic poverty experienced by so many in Latin America. Those are already both clearly evident in the way he’s exercising his new office.