Time Magazine honored Pope Francis last month with their annual “Person of the Year” award. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope on March 13, 2013 and he immediately let the world know through a series of simple and powerful actions that he was going to be a different kind of pope. Through these actions Pope Francis has touched the hearts and souls of millions of people around the world, including millions who are outside the membership of the Roman Catholic Church. It is these simple actions that have endeared him to the world and earned Pope Francis Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award.
The first action, signifying what was to follow, was that the new pope took the name Francis. St. Francis, one of the most beloved saints, was well known for his life of simplicity and his devotion to caring for the poor. In his first public act this new pope demonstrated the humble spirit of his namesake by asking the crowd of 150,000 people to pray for him before he, in turn, offered them a blessing.
Numerous photographs and videos of Pope Francis serving the “least of these” have further demonstrated his gentle and compassionate spirit. He washed the feet of a young woman at a juvenile prison during Holy Week. He touched and blessed a man with a disfiguring skin condition at a public Mass and moved the hearts of millions while doing so. And when a little boy jumped onto the stage in St. Peter’s Square while the Pope was giving an address, he showed great patience and kindness to the boy, even when the boy refused to leave until he got a hug from Pope Francis.
These, and other simple actions, along with his words have set a tone of compassion, humility, and healing and have earned Pope Francis the “Person of the Year” award. As I reflect on all of this from the point of view of wellness, what stands out for me is that the award that this new pope received is entitled the Person of the Year Award. He was not given an award for being the Pope of the Year–that would be a pretty small field of candidates, after all–but Person of the Year. That’s what I want to really highlight about Francis, in terms of this award–not what kind of pope he is, but what kind of person and example he is for all of us.
I highlight this because his actions demonstrate what a high level of spiritual, emotional, and relational wellness looks like. We don’t have to become pope to aspire to the qualities that Pope Francis exemplifies. The key to being a good pope is the also the key to being good at any role or vocation we have in life, and that is first and foremost, to simply be a good person. Being a good person is the key to being a good friend, a good spouse, a good teacher, a good parent, a good worker of any kind, and clearly of being a good pope. I can’t think of any role in life that is not greatly enhanced by being a good person. Pope Francis has also reminded us that no title or role matters nearly as much as the character of the person that inhabits that role.
Consistently living our lives in a way that demonstrates humility, compassion, and patience will most likely not get any of us elected pope or earn us any kind of popular award. Centering our lives on these virtues will, however, ultimately be it’s own reward, for our own emotional and spiritual well-being as well as for the emotional and spiritual well-being of those who know us best.