Pope Francis has been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2013.

The magazine credited him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the "imaginations of millions" who had become disillusioned with the Vatican.

"So much of what he has done in his brief nine months in office has really changed the tone of what is coming out of the Vatican," Time Editor Nancy Gibbs said in announcing the choice on NBC's Today programme.

"He is saying: 'We are about the healing mission of the church, and not about the theological police work'."

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and gay rights activist Edith Windsor were also contenders for the award.

Other finalists included Miley Cyrus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and US Senator Ted Cruz from Texas.

"What makes this pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all," Time said on its website.

"Behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator.

"He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office," the magazine said.

"This new pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars, which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles," it added.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said: "The Holy Father is not looking to become famous or to receive honours.

"But if the choice of Person of the Year helps spread the message of the gospel - a message of God's love for everyone - he will certainly be happy about that."