Who ever said popes didn’t know how to crack a good joke?
Sixtus V: One day the pope was invited to witness a “miracle” in one of Rome’s churches: a cross that bled. When he arrived, he realized that there was nothing miraculous occurring and requested a hatchet. Standing before the cross, he said, “As Christ I adore you; as wood I cut you.” And indeed he discovered the deception; within the cross were sponges soaked in blood. The pope’s intuition gained him a reputation among the Romans who would say, “Like Pope Sixtus, who doesn’t even pardon Jesus!”
Leo XIII: The pope had filled the Vatican Gardens with animals that had been given him as gifts during the pontificate. One day, as he was walking through the gardens, a gazelle practically toppled him as it ran away. Everyone accompanying the pope was alarmed, but the pope immediately and calmly said, “When have you seen a ‘leo’ (lion) get afraid of a defenseless gazelle?”
Another of Leo XIII: One day the pope had an audience with a Spanish gentleman, who, filled with gratitude for his chance to speak with the pope, told him, “I thank you Your Holiness for this great opportunity. Just think, days before Pius IX died, he also granted me an audience.” And Pope Leo responded, “If I would have known that you were so dangerous for popes, I would have postponed our meeting for a few years!”
John XXIII: The Good Pope was also known for being a jokester. During one discourse he recounted, “It often happens to me that I wake up at night and start thinking about a whole list of grave problems. So then I make the brave decision to go in the morning and speak with the pope about these things. Then I wake up completely and remember that I’m the pope!”
Another anecdote comes from his time before the election, when he was the apostolic nuncio to France. Archbishop Roncalli (the future Pope John) was presented one day with the chief rabbi of Paris and the two had a warm conversation. When they were ready to move into the sitting room, the rabbi courteously invited the archbishop to go first. Archbishop Roncalli responded, “Please, the Old Testament first…”
Paul VI: One day he called the convent of the Holy Spirit in Rome. A nun answered, saying, “Hello, this is the Mother Superior of the Holy Spirit.” The pope replied, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to accept speaking with the lowly Vicar of Christ on earth!”
John Paul II: During a conclave, an elderly cardinal approached Cardinal Wojtyla, to chide him: “Your Eminence, I have heard that you ski, climb mountains, ride a bicycle and swim. I do not believe that this is fitting for a Prince of the Church.” The future pope answered him, “But don’t you know that in Poland, 50 percent of the cardinals do these same things?” (His answer was savvy since at that time, Poland only had two cardinals!)
Pope Francis: With his Argentinean touch, we could mention several anecdotes from this pontificate. Here we share only two, both from his famous telephone calls.
The first, a call he made as a newly elected pope: “Good morning. I am Pope Francis and I would like to speak to the Father General,” he said to the receptionist of the Jesuits. And the young religious replied, “Yes, and I’m Napoleon!”
Another time he called the Carmelites of Cordoba to greet them, but they were in prayer when his call came in. Pope Francis left a message on the machine: “What might these nuns be doing that they can’t answer?” — a call from the pope!
Translated from Aleteia’s Spanish edition.