A gay rights magazine has named Pope Francis its person of the year, an honour that has coincided with his 77th birthday.

The Advocate,  the oldest gay rights magazine in the US has conferred the title on the pontiff for his encouraging words on gays and lesbians, describing his papacy as a stark change from that of his predecessor Benedict.

Francis is also this month's cover star of the magazine, which has placed a tattoo from an anti-homophobia campaign on his cheek, even though the Vatican insists there is no change in the official position on homosexuality.

The publication hailed as a landmark the pope's famous response to a reporter who asked about gay people in the Church: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

The Roman Catholic church teaches that homosexual acts are sinful rather than homosexual tendencies but The Advocate has said nobody should underestimate any pope's capacity for "persuading hearts and minds" in opening to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people.

Francis, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday by sharing a meal with the homeless at his guest house, has had a spectacular 2013 despite only being elected in March.

Splendour eschewed

Last week Time magazine also pronounced him as the person of the year, congratulating him for shifting the message of the church towards mercy and away from condemnation.

He is also credited with the 'Pope Francis effect' - a boost in church attendance figures in Italy and the UK - and praised for his use of social media.

His simple lifestyle and informal apparoach has also garnered positive reaction.

Francis has eschewed the splendours of the papal palace for a suite in a Vatican hotel and traveling around in an open-top vehicle rather than the bulletproof Popemobile. 

But some of his acts have surprised people. 

His decision to wash and dry the feet of two young women and Muslims during a Maundy Thursday mass was a dramatic break from tradition.

Source: Reuters