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The extraordinary skill shared by popes past and present



Cerith Gardiner - published on 05/31/22

But there's one pope in particular who's top of the class -- not that it's a competition!

One of the most important tasks of a pontiff is to share the Word of God, something that is made a little easier if they can master a few languages. It’s something that we don’t generally consider, but so many popes have been impressive polyglots, mastering a number of languages, including the classics.

If we look at the past three pontiffs — Francis, Benedict, and St. John Paul II — they all have this skill in common, yet there is one whose language skills allowed him to communicate with most Catholics around the world.

Pope Francis — approximately 8 spoken languages

The Argentinian native grew up learning Italian as well as his mother tongue of Spanish, as his father and paternal grandparents originated from Italy. He also managed to learn German, French, Ukrainian (he was mentored by Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Chmil as a young man), Portuguese, and Piedmontese — a language spoken in a north Italian region.

Of course, the pontiff also speaks Latin, with it being the official language of the Vatican, and he also is familiar with ancient Greek and Hebrew. However, the one language he finds tricky is English due to its phonetics.

In fact, as a 44-year-old priest he went to Dublin to practice his English for 8 weeks with the Jesuits. According to i News, Father Donal Neary recalled that the now-pontiff left without having really improved.

Since Pope Francis is most comfortable in Spanish and Italian, you’ll often see him with an interpreter in the other languages he practices to ensure his words are correctly interpreted for all those who listen to him.

Pope Benedict XVI — approximately 6 spoken languages

The pope emeritus is also a linguist. Hailing from Bavaria, Benedict naturally speaks German. H is also fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, and French, and can speak Portuguese to a lesser degree.

The prolific reader and writer is also proficient in the classical languages.

Pope John Paul II — too many to count!

The late Pope John Paul II was truly a linguistic master. The canonized saint was able to converse in multiple languages including his mother tongue, Polish, as well as Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and English. He was also able to master Latin, and the written use of biblical Hebrew.

While not fluent, John Paul II was able to converse in Slovak, Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Tagalog. And to top it off, he also make the effort to speak in other dialects with just a bit of prep. He famously greeted the faithful in 57 languages at an Easter Mass, and then managed to beat that at a Christmas Mass by greeting the congregation in 62 languages.

Pope Benedict XVIPope FrancisPope John Paul II
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