I am sure that GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to know that the Godbeat professionals in the Religion Newswriters Association selected the election of Pope Francis Superstar as the top religion-news story of 2013. It goes without saying that Pope Francis was also named Religion Newsmaker of the Year. Click here to read the official RNA release about the Top 10 stories of the year.
Faithful GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked to know that I understood the logic of the RNA vote, but had a slightly different take on the top news event or trend in 2013.
And finally, GetReligion podcast patrons will be shocked, shocked to know that host Todd Wilken and I dissected all of this material, and more, in this week's "Crossroads" episode. Please click here to listen to that.
So here is my logic about this No. 1 story vote.
Of course I understand that the election of Pope Francis produced more headlines and glowing ink over the last year than any other religion-beat story. In terms of mainstream news coverage, the election of the charismatic, yet walk-his-talk humble, pope had to be one of the most powerful earthquakes in this past year's news -- period.
But stop and think about it.
How long has it been since the occupant of St. Peter's throne resigned his post? That would be 600 years or so, right? Thus, one could make the case that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was one of the most important stories in Catholicism, and thus, Western Christianity in, well, decades -- at the very least. Try to imagine the long-term ramifications of Benedict's astonishing exit.
So how can a story be one of the most important stories in Western religion in DECADES and not be the most important religion story of the YEAR?
I know, I know. Pope Francis was the religion-news earthquake of 2013 and that's that. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI finished in second place.
Well, I have one more angle I would like readers to pause and consider. Here's how I put it in this week's "On Religion" column for the Universal Uclick syndicate:
... Here is an interesting question to ponder: Based on his own words and actions, what 2013 event or trend would Pope Francis have selected as the most important?
As the year came to a close, it appeared the pope's attention was increasingly focused on the persecution of believers around the world, especially endangered Christian minorities in Egypt, Syria and throughout the Middle East. In a sermon on Nov. 28, he even urged his listeners to recall that when people are forbidden to worship, and faith is driven from public life, the end times could be near.
"What does this mean? It will be like the triumph of the prince of this world: the defeat of God. It seems that in that final moment of calamity, he will take possession of this world, that he will be the master of this world," he said, in remarks that drew little commentary from world media.
When this happens, explained Pope Francis, "religion cannot be spoken of, it is something private, no? Publicly it is not spoken about. The religious signs are taken down. The laws that come from the worldly powers must be obeyed. You can do so many beautiful things except adore God."
Pope Francis talking about the power of the prince of this world (think Satan), the Second Coming of Christ and the end of all things? I am sure you read about that sermon in your local newspaper. Not.
The pope must think that the rising tide of religious oppression is a pretty big deal.
In other words, I am convinced that -- if he had been allowed to vote in the RNA poll -- Pope Francis would have said that the year's most important event or trend was the rising threat to religious freedom around the world, often expressed with swords, bullets and firebombs, as well as legislation. In particular, he has been vocal about the crushing oppression that Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians increasingly faced this year in the Middle East.
So where did that trend place in the RNA poll?