Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City.
Andreas Solara—AFP/Getty Images
By Matt Vella
March 20, 2014

Fortune magazine went in search of the globe’s best leaders. And it came back with Pope Francis—and 49 other change agents, reformers, and visionaries. The list’s members span six continents and operate in fields including business, government, armed forces, philanthropy and religion. Some, such as the Pope, are famous the world over; many are not. “A leader’s job is to define reality and give hope,” American Express CEO Ken Chenault (number 18 on the list) told the publication. Here’s why the Pope ranks at the top; the full list can be found here.

Pope Francis
Age: 77
Pontiff, Catholic Church

Just over a year ago, a puff of white smoke announced the new spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world. In the brief time since, Francis has electrified the church and attracted legions of non-Catholic admirers by energetically setting a new direction. He has refused to occupy the palatial papal apartments, has washed the feet of a female Muslim prisoner, is driven around Rome in a Ford Focus, and famously asked “Who am I to judge?” with regard to the church’s view of gay members. He created a group of eight cardinals to advise him on reform, which a church historian calls the “most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries.” Francis recently asked the world to stop the rock-star treatment. He knows that while revolutionary, his actions so far have mostly reflected a new tone and intentions. His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a “Francis effect” abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they’d increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77% said it was due in part to the Pope.

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