— -- Pope Francis has won legions of fans with his humble approach to his role as the head of the Catholic Church, earning brownie points with others for his willingness to take an impromptu selfie during his general audiences or trying on a fan's hat while wading through the crowds.
Some of his best moments from this year -- his second since becoming pope -- had serious policy implications as well. Here are some highlights:
The pope reportedly helped advocate on behalf of Alan Gross, an American who had been held by the Cubans for five years prior to his release earlier this month.
The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis wrote letters to both Cuban President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama and "invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties."
He also received more than 1,700 pounds of chicken that he said would be sent to local soup kitchens.
His birthday is not the only time of the year that the pope helps the needy, however, as construction is underway for three showers for homeless people to use right outside St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.
3. Wants More Gender Balance in the Church Pope Francis spoke to an Italian women's group in January, praising the "indispensable role" of women in the church, according to USA Today.
He reportedly said that he was pleased to see women taking on larger roles in the church and within families, and sees that growing "more capillary and incisive."
USA Today reported that he praised women's "gifts of delicacy" and their "special sensitivity and tenderness."
4. Answers Pet Owners PrayersThe pope made believers out of pet lovers when he hinted that dogs will be allowed through the pearly gates of heaven.
The comment came earlier this month when Pope Francis was comforting a young boy whose dog had recently died, telling the boy not to worry because "paradise is open to all of God's creatures."
5. Blasts Vatican Bureaucrats with his Christmas AddressMost people send out thoughtful notes and warm wishes during the holiday season. Pope Francis is not most people.
The Associated Press reports that the head of the Catholic Church issued a 15-point plan explaining all that is wrong with the Vatican's bureaucracy, saying that the bishops and cardinals and priests who serve him are guilty of using their positions to grab power.
Pope Francis, who won popularity for shunning some of the more glamorous perks of his position for more humble options, wrote that they were living "hypocritical" double lives.
He wrote that by fixing these 15 "ailments of the Curia," the church will become healthier and holier in the next year.