A gay rights magazine in the U.S. has named Pope Francis its person of the year, an honor that has coincided with his 77th birthday.
The Advocate, the oldest gay rights magazine in the U.S., conferred the title on the pontiff in recognition of what is perceived as his encouraging words on gays and lesbians, describing his papacy as a stark change from that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
Francis is also this month's cover star of the magazine, which has placed a tattoo from an anti-homophobia campaign on his cheek. The Vatican insists there is no change in the official position on homosexuality.
"Pope Francis is leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference,” the magazine’s editor Lucas Grindley wrote.
The publication hailed as a landmark the pope's recent response to a reporter who asked about gay people in the Church: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"
The Roman Catholic church teaches that homosexual acts are sinful rather than homosexual tendencies, but The Advocate has said nobody should underestimate any pope's capacity for "persuading hearts and minds" in opening to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people.
Francis beat Edith “Edie” Windsor, whose lifetime fight for federal government recognition of her marriage to her deceased wife of 40 years led the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which previously defined marriage as a union only available to a man and woman.
Francis, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday by sharing a meal with the homeless at his guest house, has had a spectacular 2013 despite only being elected in March.
Last week Time magazine also dubbed the pope person of the year, congratulating him for shifting the message of the church toward mercy and away from condemnation.
He is also credited with the 'Pope Francis effect' — a boost in church attendance figures in Italy and the U.K. — and praised for his use of social media.
Al Jazeera and Reuters