NEW YORK - Pope Francis has been named the “Person of the Year” by Time magazine.

The honor has not been bestowed upon a pope in almost two decades. The pope won hearts and headlines in 2013 when he became the first South American leader of the Catholic church, and began to change the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution.

Pope Francis has broken the mold from his predecessors, becoming a more vocal and open minded pontiff, with a softer stance toward controversial matters. He's gained attention by challenging the interpretation of church issues, such as homosexuality and capitalism.

The pope emerged from a crowded field of the year's newsmakers. The magazine's 10 finalists included singer Miley Cyrus and last year's winner President Barack Obama. It was then narrowed down to a top five list made up of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Syrian President Bashar Assad, gay rights activist Edith Windsor and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

"The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honors," said the Vatican spokesperson. "But if the choice of Person of Year helps spread the message of the Gospel, a message of God's love for everyone, he will certainly be happy about that."

The iconic title goes to the individual who has had the most impact on the world and the news each year, for better or for worse, according to Time magazine editors.

"Pope Francis clearly radiates the joy that comes from loving God and caring for his people," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Students at St. Raymond's School in Parkchester are praising the pope, and say they feel like they could learn from him. They feel that the pope positively influences their community.