"He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing," Time wrote in its announcement. "The septuagenarian superstar is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century."
Following him in the top five were NSA leaker Edward Snowden, gay rights activist Edith Windsor, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The top 10 also included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, singer Miley Cyrus, U.S. President Barack Obama, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.
The new pope "comes at a time when the church seemed to be needing a huge burst of new energy," Time contributor Howard Chua-Eoan said in a video announcing the magazine's decision.
The magazine's international editor, Bobby Ghosh, said Francis' contributions in his short time in office have changed the church's image as well as its substance.
"He's changed perceptions of the church from being this out-of-touch institution to one that is humble and merciful," Ghosh said. "He's changed the focus of the church from being focused on doctrine to becoming more about service. And he's changed the tone in which the church speaks to one of compassion. It's all about the poor. This is the church as it used to be in its -- arguably its best period in the past. And Francis seems to be bringing that back."
He has also opened up church finances and addressed controversial issues other popes have shied away from discussing publicly, Ghosh said.
"He's talking about homosexuality, about giving women a bigger say in the church. These are things that are very, very important. They're not just words. He's actually following them up with action," Ghosh said.
The Vatican welcomed Time's selection, while making it clear the man so widely recognized for his humility didn't seek the award and didn't want its light to shine on him but on the mission of the church.
"We think that the declaration of the Pope as the man of the year is a positive sign. because it is a very prestigious declaration, given to a man that announces the love of God and the peace for all," the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters. "And the Pope does not look for honors, but he is happy if his message -- his message of the love of good -- is received and understood. And then, in this sense, he can be happy of this declaration."