Time magazine, as anyone who reads the papers knows, has been soliciting votes for its highly publicized Person of the Century. The magazine’s criterion—the person who for good or ill has made the greatest impact on the world—allows for some quite unsavory selections. Hitler and Stalin are near the top of that list, and word has it that the legion of Elvis fans have been stuffing the electronic ballot box.
But what if we were to broaden our scope to the last thousand years? What individual stands out as having had the most impact on our millennium? We might find it an even more fruitful exercise if we were to ask the question, Who has had the most effect for good over the course of the past 10 centuries? While the usual suspects would include those who wielded political, economic, or military power, leading conquering armies or sitting on the thrones of rich and far-reaching empires, people of faith might bring a radically different set of criteria. Applying gospel values instead of worldly ones, the most fitting candidate for person of the millennium might very well be Francis of Assisi.
Why Francis? First off, he’s not just the meek-and-mild animal lover of myths and legends. The real Francis was a high-spirited and rather wealthy young man, on the road toward economic success and military glory. He renounced it all to follow the gospel. The ideas and values that he personified—simplicity of life, nonviolence, humility, love of the creation—are qualities of increasing importance as the world limps out of the materialistic, war-torn 20th century.