"He's electrified the world because he embodies the basic tenets of Catholic social doctrine that also cut across all great faiths," wrote Vice President Joe Biden, a fellow Catholic, in his brief appreciation.
But what other religion-related leaders are on this year's list?
Here's a sampling:
Ibtihaj Muhammad: Fencer extraordinaire
Muhammad will wear her hijab as she represents the U.S. in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "The sport let her express her athletic talent, and the uniform allowed her to stay true to her faith," writes U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress.
Marilynne Robinson: Inquisitive novelist
Robinson's novels -- including Lila and Home -- range from the mysterious to the certain, writes fellow novelist Colm Toibin. "In her essays, in which she displays a questioning spirit, she is concerned with belief and tradition," he says.
Mussie Zerai: Refugee rescuer
Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest who gained asylum in Rome, has earned the nickname "Father Moses" after setting up an emergency call center in 2003 to help address the volume of refugees fleeing persecution and war.
"For over a decade, this Catholic priest has been a lifeline for thousands of Europe-bound boat migrants in distress," writes artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Ex-con parliamentarian
President Obama writes of visiting her home where he saw she "sustained herself by studying Buddhist teachings on love and compassion."