"So much of what he has done in his brief nine months in office has really changed the tone of what is coming out of the Vatican," Time Editor Nancy Gibbs said in announcing the choice on NBC television's "Today" program. "He is saying, 'We are about the healing mission of the church, and not about the theological police work'."
The Pope beat out 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 on its website.
In a statement read on "Today," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, "The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors. But if the choice of Person of the Year helps spread the message of the gospel - a message of God's love for everyone - he will certainly be happy about that."