Time defines its Person of the Year as the individual who, for better or worse, had the greatest impact on the news and our lives this year. As we were preparing this issue, the news broke of the death of Nelson Mandela. For his remarkable statesmanship in leading South Africa down the road of reconciliation, he was one of TIME's Men of the Year in 1993, and this issue concludes with tributes to his life and legacy by my predecessor, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, who collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, as well as by Bono and Morgan Freeman.
Among this year's leading newsmakers is Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor charged with espionage for his exposure of America's secret surveillance machinery. But the NSA revelations were just one of several earthquakes shaking the public faith in government. One of the most influential members of the political class this year was also one of its newest: freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was so worried the public would become addicted to the spoils of Obamacare that he instigated a 16-day government shutdown that stood no chance of defunding the law. It did, however, distract attention from what ended up being the most disastrous debut of an immense government program in modern history.
Not all power, of course, is political. Edith Windsor, another individual turned icon, became the Rosa Parks of the gay-rights movement when she sued the U.S. government to recognize her marriage to her partner of more than 40 years. Her victory in the Supreme Court accelerated one of the swiftest transformations in public attitudes in American history.
We live in an age of disruption, and insurgents are increasingly found in unlikely places. A surprising new voice on the world stage suggested that the "culture of the temporary" was a road to ruin. "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility ... the culture of prosperity deadens us." That is the voice that cut through the noise of a noisy year, and it belongs to our Person of the Year, Pope Francis. To capture his character and the questions he has raised, TIME contributor Howard Chua-Eoan reported from Buenos Aires and Rome, while Elizabeth Dias talked to prominent religious leaders in the U.S. and around the world. Our cover portrait was painted by Jason Seiler; it is sure to become one of a great many of a man being watched closely within his church, and far beyond.
Nancy Gibbs, MANAGING EDITOR
PERSON OF THE YEAR ON TIME.COM
BEHIND THE COVER
To capture the essence of Pope Francis, we turned to Chicago-based Jason Seiler, a classically trained oil painter who recently taught himself to paint digitally on an LCD display (above). Seiler spent more than 70 hours creating the artwork, which continues the rich tradition of great portraiture on the cover of TIME. "A lot of times before I start a painting, I see it finished in my head," he says. "With this one, I let it happen organically." For more on the process, go to time.com/popepainting
A LIFE IN PICTURES