Last December, would the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio have been familiar to you? He was one of the Roman Catholic Church's 200 cardinals, serving in his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He had been a janitor and nightclub bouncer before becoming a Jesuit. A brilliant scholar with fluency in Spanish, Latin, Italian and German, he was known especially for his modesty. He lived in a downtown room heated by a small stove, traveled by bus, and cooked his own meals.
Of course, his public profile changed forever last March 13 when he was elected pope. Yesterday, Pope Francis was named TIME magazine's 2013 Person of the Year. The video accompanying the announcement gives three reasons for the decision.
First is his commitment to the poor: Francis has been pope only nine months, but he has "refocused the global conversation on poverty and those in need." Second is his personal humility: he "came onto the scene with fanfare and the opposite of fanfare," serving with genuine sincerity and modesty. Third is his engagement with contemporary media: he is using his office "in ways that feel almost like a grassroots initiative."
According to Global Magazine Monitor, Pope Francis is themost-talked about person of the year online. He tops the list of what Facebook's 1.2 billion users are talking about worldwide. And he is the most influential world leader on Twitter: Francis has 3,348,650 followers (myself among them), and his account gets an average of 8,200 retweets for every English tweet. As further evidence of his demographic-spanning popularity, Francis has also been named Man of the Year by MTV's college channel.
You and I were not chosen for Person of the Year, but we can emulate the one who was. We can use contemporary media to advance the gospel, following Paul's commitment: "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). How are you using technology for the Kingdom?
We can serve Christ with modest humility, following John the Baptist's commitment: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). How will you glorify Jesus today?
And we can serve those in physical and spiritual need, following Jesus' commitment "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Who will feel his compassion through yours today? Who will hear the gospel from you?
Pope Francis tweeted three days ago, "If we see someone who needs help, do we stop? There is so much suffering and poverty, and a great need for good Samaritans." We may never be Person of the Year, but we can all be good Samaritans. Which matters more to eternity?