Perhaps slightly in contrast with the new humble course set by Pope Francis, the Vatican said that Time magazine's choice of the pontiff as Person of the Year for 2013 did not come as much of a surprise.

Francis beat NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as first choice for the cover of the US weekly as the world's most influential figure of the year.

The selection by Time editors was welcomed by Vaticans spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi, although he was not over-impressed by the decision.

"This fact is unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate," Lombardi said.

"It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice.

"With regard to the Pope, for his part, he does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all," Lombardi added.

"If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as Person of the Year means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad."

Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs said that Francis deserved to be the third Pope in history to win the award for changing the perception of the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church in such an extraordinary way in a short time.

"At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge," said Gibbs.

John Paul II was selected for the cover honour in 1994 and John XXIII was chosen in 1962.

Francis succeeds US president Barack Obama who was named Person of the Year in 2012.

The choice did not go down well with Julian Assange and his anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks tweeted:

Time has been giving the award every year since 1927.

Pope Francis Time 2013
Pope Francis on the conver of US weekly Time (Time Magazine)