He is the first pope to have taken the name of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, who was always said that he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of brother or sister.
Now he is also the first Pope to be named PETA's Person of the Year.
Pope Francis has been chosen because, according to the animal charity, for asking the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and all other citizens of the world to reject domination over God’s creation, treat animals with kindness and respect the environment – something the People's Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) views as a call to turn towards a simple, plant-based diet, given the now well-established role of animal agriculture in climate change.
In his 2015 treatise, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis stressed the importance of treating animals with kindness, writing: "Every act of cruelty towards any creature is 'contrary to human dignity'."
PICTURE GALLERY - ANIMAL MAGIC...
He added: "We are not God. … [W]e must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the Earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures."
Pope Francis is also known for his focus on environmental stewardship – a concern that PETA shares through its vegan advocacy as, according to the United Nations, a global shift towards vegan eating is necessary in slowing the most dangerous effects of climate change, including the extinction of wildlife.
"With more than a billion Catholics worldwide, Pope Francis' animal-friendly teachings have a massive audience," said managing director of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, who describes herself as an atheist. "His Holiness is PETA's Person of the Year for spreading the message of kindness to all, regardless of their religion or species."
Previous persons of the year include Morrissey, Brian May, Tony Benn, and Ricky Gervais.