Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year on Wednesday, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the imagination of millions of people who had become disillusioned with the Vatican.
The Argentine pontiff - who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires was known as the slum cardinal for his visits to the poor and penchant for subway travel - beat former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and gay rights activist Edith Windsor for the award.
Other finalists included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas.
"What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all," Time said in its cover story.
"In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church — the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world — above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors."
Time said the final selection was made by its editors, who had considered suggestions from the magazine's more than 2 million Twitter followers.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, the first from Latin America and the first Jesuit, was not seeking fame.
"It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious recognitions by the international media has been given to a person who proclaims to the world spiritual, religious and moral values and speaks out forcefully in favor of peace and greater justice," Lombardi said in a statement.
"If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is happy. If this choice of 'Person of the Year' means that many have understood this message, even implicitly, he is certainly glad."
In September, Francis gave a groundbreaking and frank interview, in which he said the Vatican must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful.
And in July, Francis told reporters he was not in a position to judge homosexuals who are of good will and in search of God, marking a break from his predecessor, Benedict, who said homosexuality was an intrinsic disorder.
Francis replaced Benedict in March after he abdicated.
Pope Francis was at the top of a long list of contenders. Here are the runners-up to Time’s Person of the Year for 2013:
Bashar Assad, president of Syria
Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder
Ted Cruz, Texas senator
Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services
Edward Snowden, N.S.A. leaker
Edith Windsor, gay rights activist