Time magazine has named Pope Francis "Person of the Year 2013", beating other contenders such as Edward Snowden, Miley Cyrus, and Ted Cruz.
The international news magazine said it chose the Holy Father largely because of his humility and compassion.
"In a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him," Time's managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, wrote in an article explaining their decision. "For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest faith to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year."
The award was accompanied by a long tribute article entitled "Pope Francis - The People's Pope".
In a statement issued this afternoon, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said the designation was "unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate."
He added: "It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice."
Fr. Lombardi stressed that the Pope "does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all. If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as "Person of the Year" means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad."
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, also a Vatican spokesman, said he shared the sentiments of Fr. Lombardi and praised English language media for not only reporting the stories, but understanding the "great gift the world received on March 13, 2013."
"The life, messages and gestures of Pope Francis have clearly transcended religious and sectarian divisions," he said. "He is an instrument of peace and hope for humanity. Clearly he spends himself gladly and joyfully for the the world. The world would be a poorer place without Francis, Bishop of Rome."
Begun in 1927, Time's designation is often regarded as an honor and is usually chosen for admirable people as in the Holy Father's case.
However, the publication says it also chooses controversial figures for the impact they have had on the world. These have included Adolf Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979).
Last year, President Barack Obama was chosen. The year before that, the generic "Protester" was given the accolade.