Pope Francis the first religious leader to be picked as PETA's Person of the Year.

Pope Francis was chosen for asking the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and all other citizens of the world to reject human domination over God’s creation, treat animals with kindness, and respect the environment — something PETA views as a call to turn toward 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 talked about the importance of treating animals with kindness, writing, “Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity’” and “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. According to the United Nations, a global shift toward vegan eating is necessary for slowing down 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,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, 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.”

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