Pope Francis, Bob Dylan, the Dalai Lama, the King of Bhutan

Pope Francis

The Argentinian national flags waving in St Peter’s Square, Rome, told part of the story. The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a humble Jesuit priest from Buenos Aires as Pope Francis in March 2013 was an event of global significance: it signaled a new enfranchisement for Latin American Catholics, a more progressive direction in the Church’s theology and a moment of renewal and relevance for the Church as a whole.

During his tenure, Pope Francis has lived up to these expectations, expressing a new inclusivity and welcome to gay people, to women, to divorcees and to those outside the Church. Although he has stopped short of revolution, Pope Francis has taken unmistakable steps towards reform: corrupt members of the Church have been expelled, sexual abuse has been uncovered and punished, and humane practice has gained priority over strict interpretations of doctrine.

In his leadership, Pope Francis stays faithful to his lowly background and Jesuit education. Through leading a simple life and eschewing luxury, he demonstrates how the Church can guide political and social discourse, implicitly rebuking governments and businesses that exploit workers or reinforce inequalities.

Just as Catholic bastions like the Republic of Ireland have modernised by legalising abortion and gay marriage, the Church itself is under pressure to reform. Pope Francis is both responding to these pressures and leading the Church towards a new accommodation with the 21st century, taking care to retain its traditions and theological continuity.

Bob Dylan

Born in 1941 just months before the United States entered World War II, Bob Dylan came of age as the 1950s ended and the extraordinary transformations in American society of the 1960s were about to begin.

Seizing the torch of the radical youth movement, with its rejection of the Establishment, its opposition to the Vietnam War and its plea for racial harmony, Dylan briefly became a standard bearer for this generation before embarking on the first of many reinventions: to introspective poet, fierce and noisy rocker, crooning lover, enigmatic surrealist, evangelical Christian, nomadic performer and acclaimed painter.

Through each iteration, Dylan has won over new audiences and a worldwide record-buying public than now numbers hundreds of millions. His live concerts, which can now be counted in the thousands, place him among the most popular entertainers in history. And his prolific output of songs, literature, films and paintings has made Dylan one of the world’s most influential creative artists.

Such commercial and critical acclaim has been rewarded both financially and in peer recognition, through industry awards, commendations from nations and from cultural committees, culminating in the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first for any musician.

The Dalai Lama

The small, mountainous country of Tibet was little known to the outside world prior to the mid-20th century. Yet its traditions of spiritual wisdom and leadership date back 1300 years: the ancient role of the Dalai Lama is passed on through reincarnation, with Tibetan elders identifying the new leader through a series of tests.

In 1959, this unbroken tradition suffered a dramatic disruption, as the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso was forced into exile following an invasion of Chinese troops. In the aftermath of this crisis, the Dalai Lama sought support for his countryfolk and spread his message of non-violent resistance and a Buddhist philosophy of selflessness.

Through energetic diplomacy and his charismatic personality, the Dalai Lama became one of the world’s most celebrated and admired spiritual leaders, the embodiment of Buddhist teaching and a unifying figure for those jaded by ubiquitous materialism.

The public was captivated by the Dalai Lama’s humility, serenity and irrepressible sense of humour. He typically exhibits a sense of wonder and joy in the world around him, seeing the best in other people, while nevertheless maintaining a strong focus on the wellbeing of his Tibetan countryfolk and seeking their independence from Chinese repression.

The Dalai Lama’s message of peace, forgiveness and understanding was memorably rewarded by the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, bringing Buddhist philosophy to a huge new audience and turning him into the religion’s first true celebrity. Although Tibet is yet to attain independence or autonomy, his contribution to global peace and reconciliation is beyond doubt.

In Tibet itself, the Dalai Lama has succeeded in modernising the country’s administration, introducing democratic institutions and ceding political power to an elected leader in 2011. In his own lifetime, he has enhanced the credibility of the title to astonishing heights.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan

Among its population of just over 700,000 people, the great majority of Bhutan’s citizens are fervent royalists. They are deeply proud of their royal family, turning out in huge crowds to celebrate marriages, birthdays, or announcements of new children. Uniquely among the world’s monarchies, many can boast of personal contact with their King, who frequently tours the country to visit individuals’ homes, by foot or by bicycle, stopping to cook food for his subjects.

This humility and lack of ostentation, taught by successive Bhutanese Kings over the past century, characterise the reign of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck since his coronation in 2008 following the abdication of his father. In contrast to the chaotic and problematic monarchy of Nepal, which collapsed in 2008 under political pressure, the Bhutanese King has kept the full support of his people and its leaders, while forming strong alliances with neighbouring countries and the wider international community. He has bolstered the authority of the Bhutanese royal family at a time of international volatility, through careful diplomacy, wise leadership and unstinting service to his own people.

Balancing the need to promote economic growth with the longstanding traditions of environmental conservation and his royal predecessors’ notion of Gross National Happiness, the King has navigated a path towards both financial self-sufficiency, through harnessing hydroelectric power for example, and towards social cohesion, by consulting widely among his people and persuading them of the necessity of new democratic institutions. His handling of diplomatic issues such as China’s claim on the Doklam plateau, which caused a standoff between India and China in 2017, has impressed international leaders.

The King has won praise at home and overseas for his wise and attentive leadership, his dedicated service to his countryfolk and his example as a role model for Bhutanese families. He has equipped his country to thrive in the years ahead.