NEW YORK — Citing his “lascivious, grinding dance moves” and “patriotic commitment to informing the public about NSA abuses,” Time magazine named Pope Francis its Man of the Year on Wednesday.
“For making ‘twerking’ into a household word, for standing up to the Taliban for women’s education, and for forcing a discussion on the balance of freedom and security, Pope Francis is Time‘s 2013 Person of the Year,” read the official announcement.
The 76-year-old pontiff beat out a slew of newsmakers for the coveted prize, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Francis earned a reputation as a firebrand and headline-maker long before assuming leadership of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. In October of 2012, Francis was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus in retaliation for advocating for women’s rights and universal education.
Pope Francis was elected to lead the Catholic Church after the unexpected resignation of Benedict XVI in February. The 266th Bishop of Rome wasted no time establishing himself, quickly making headlines with a video featuring the Holy Father twerking along to the J Dash and Flo Rida song “WOP.”
“A lot of people thought His Holiness was just pandering for attention with that stunt,” said Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs in an interview Wednesday. “He just wanted to be himself, [and] show the world that there was a new Pope in town, one who wasn’t going to embrace pre-conceived ideals of what a papal leader should be.”
Pope Francis’s foray into twerking wasn’t a one-off. The pontiff showcased his lewd moves during a sexually charged performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs in August that many called “shocking” and “controversial.” The display has been widely credited with provoking a national dialogue about gender, sexuality, race, and the state of mass culture.
In June, collaborating with Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald, Pope Francis disclosed up to 200,000 classified documents on the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program and its counterparts in the British, Israeli, Canadian, Australian, and Norwegian secret service agencies. The Holy Father famously fled to Russia in the aftermath of the disclosures, remaining inside Moscow Airport for over a month before being granted temporary asylum by Russian President Vladimir Putin. His Holiness is considered a fugitive by American authorities who have charged him with espionage and theft of government property.
For all his accomplishments, the Vicar of Christ also hit a few rough patches in 2013. He was widely panned for his actions during the government shutdown in October, delivering in absentia a twenty-one hour nineteen minute filibuster, the fourth-longest in United States Senate history.
“Whether it was taking his clothes off for the ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video, hiding out in Moscow airport, or retelling his assassination attempt at the hands of the Taliban in his book I Am Francis there was never a dull moment for this Pope,” Time concluded. “If 2013 is any indicator, this pontiff will be shaking things up for years to come.”