Pope Francis was just named "Person of the Year" Monday by the nation's oldest gay rights magazine The Advocate. This came as the non-traditional pontiff celebrated his 77th birthday on Tuesday by inviting homeless people to join him for breakfast at the Vatican.
Although Pope Francis is still anti-gay marriage, The Advocate defended its choice of him as Person of the Year saying so far he's shown, "a stark change in (anti-gay) rhetoric from his two predecessors", according to CBS News on Dec. 17.
The magazine, which promotes equal rights for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community, pointed out the Pope's famous response last July to a reporter who asked about the relationship between gay people and the Catholic Church.
"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?", Francis responded. A gay Catholic organization called Equally Blessed called those words some of the most encouraging ever uttered by a pontiff about gay and lesbian people.
The Vatican however did point out that the Pope's words did not alter Church teachings that homosexual tendencies are not sinful in and of themselves, but homosexual acts are.
But the gay community and even many heterosexuals in the Church have welcomed what they see as a shift in focus. They see it as a call for the Catholic Church to be more compassionate and less condemning.
In "Time" magazine's also naming Pope Francis their Person of the Year last week, they credit him with shifting the message of the Church towards mercy and away from condemnation.
The choice of the Pope is controversial given the Church's stance on other hotbed issues such as abortion, contraception and the role of women in the Church.
But The Advocate defended their choice of Person of the Year explaining that Pope Francis is the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics throughout the world.
There's three times as many Catholics on the planet than there are citizens of the United States, and like it or not, what he says makes a difference.
"...none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally", wrote Lucas Grindley.
Meanwhile, news from the Vatican today said the pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario of Argentina, celebrated his 77th birthday with his ritual morning Mass in the guest house where he has chosen to live.
Francis declined to reside in the spacious papal apartments used by his predecessors. He's been known drive his own used car, and sometimes even ventures onto public transportation.
This morning, four homeless people who live on the streets outside the Vatican were invited in by a Vatican official to have breakfast with the Pope and his aides.