It is hard to imagine putting Pope Francis and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the same race for the same honor. However, the two very different public figures are both finalists in TIME Magazine's 2013 "Person of the Year" award.
Begun in 1927 and originally labeled "Man of the Year," the annual honor goes to an individual – good or bad – whom TIME's editorial board believes most impacted the news for the previous year.
Pope Francis, consecrated the new head of the Roman Catholic Church back in March after his predecessor resigned, has garnered much attention for his approach to the position. Known for his humility and frequent shunning of high status before and during his reign as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has become the talk of many circles for his seemingly unorthodox rhetoric and style. His comments on atheism, gay priests, social issues, and other matters coupled with viral images of him washing the feet of female Muslim prisoners and embracing severely deformed individuals have led many to feel Francis is taking the Roman Catholic Church in a new direction.
Others, however, have countered that the Pontiff continues to adhere to the Roman Catholic Church's views on matters like abortion, male ordination, homosexuality, and other positions, adding that previous popes have also extended similar compassionate overtures to the hurt and the marginalized.
Regardless, he is what people are talking about, online and offline. According to one study, the Pontiff was the most talked about person on the Internet for 2013. His presence has also apparently created what many have called the "Pope Francis Effect," wherein many formerly disaffected Catholics, especially in Europe and Latin America, are returning to the fold.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who assumed near absolute power in Syria in 2000 after the death of his long-serving president father, has been constantly criticized for his human rights abuses. For years, Assad's regime was known for its crushing of political dissent and numerous means of torture while simultaneously consider by many to be preferable to possible extremist Islamic rule. But with the arrival of the "Arab Spring," Assad found his fiat challenged with unprecedented resistance and by April 2011 rebels were violently resisting Assad's forces.
Syria's descent into civil war has garnered headlines worldwide, with Assad having to battle militants in his country while constantly standing under the threat of US-led international intervention.
The Syria question, for which Assad is a focal point, has led to much debate between the pro-Syria Russian government and the United States.
In addition to Pope Francis and President Assad, the other finalists are Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder who recently purchased The Washington Post; Ted Cruz, Republican Senator known for his strong criticism of the Obama Administration; singer Miley Cyrus; President Barack Obama, who won last year's "Person of the Year"; Hassan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services; NSA leaker Edward Snowden and gay rights activist Edith Windsor.