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December 27, 2013

Pope Francis and the top stories of 2013

Popes come and popes go, with a new pope elected every few years or decades.

Thus, when viewed through the lens of history, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was a stunning event in the history of Roman Catholicism and, thus, all of Western Christianity. He was the first man to resign St. Peter's throne in 600 years. Surely this was the most important religion-news story of 2013?

But when seen through the lens of the mainstream press, the bookish Benedict's exit was a mere ripple in the news flow compared to the tsunami of headlines inspired by the rise of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as the first Latin American pope. During his remarkable media honeymoon, Pope Francis has been humble and savvy, pragmatic and charismatic.

Most of all, this pope has shown that he wants a mission-minded church that balances a defense of Catholic doctrine with a renewed commitment to offering mercy and pastoral care to the poor, the powerless and those of little or no faith. He wants to build a church defined by its actions, not just by words.

To no one's surprise, the election of Pope Francis was selected as the year's No. 1 religion story by the journalists in the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA), with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI the No. 2 story. Pope Francis was also named Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

But here is an interesting question to ponder: Based on his own words and actions, what 2013 event or trend would Pope Francis have selected as the most important?

As the year came to a close, it appeared the pope's attention was increasingly focused on the persecution of believers around the world, especially endangered Christian minorities in Egypt, Syria and throughout the Middle East. In a sermon on Nov. 28, he even urged his listeners to recall that when people are forbidden to worship, and faith is driven from public life, the end times could be near.

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