Jokes, prayers, and phone calls: 12 endearing, funny, and spontaneous moments that marked Pope Francis' year.
In the context of world conflicts, Pope Francis’ painful knee, and polarizations within the Church, it can come naturally to focus on the negative situations that have affected the Pontiff and the Church’s year. However, 2022 was also marked by many lighthearted moments, where the Pope’s charisma and spontaneity shined through. From unexpected blessings to strangers to jokes about his knee, here are 12 times we smiled along with Pope Francis’ during the year.
1. That time Pope Francis got caught going to a record store
On January 11 Pope Francis left the Vatican hoping to quickly visit a record store in the center of Rome without being noticed. The owners of the shop told the Italian daily, Avvenire, that the Pontiff used to visit their store often before being elected. Francis’ luck seems to have failed him, though, as a Spanish Vatican reporter was waiting for a taxi in the area right as the Pontiff exited the store, thus breaking the news. The journalist then wrote to the Pope to apologize for the uproar but also explaining he was happy to have reported on some lighthearted news. The Pope responded in the same lively tone, saying he couldn’t believe his bad luck since “after taking all precautions, there was a journalist waiting for a person at the cab stand!” “We must not lose our sense of humor,” he concluded.
2. When the homeless got to interview the Pope
In a book released in Italian, Spanish, and French on April 1, Pope Francis responded to 100 questions from a group of homeless and disadvantaged people. Hosted in Casa Santa Marta, this group of people are part of the Association Lazare, which organizes social housing in France where young people and the homeless live together. The group asked the Pope questions that had come from all over the world, as they were collected by other charity associations and NGOs. The Pontiff commented on a variety of themes: from what is the Pope’s salary to whether he had had a girlfriend when he was young to his favorite saint (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, by the way!).
3. An unexpected blessing in Malta
When Pope Francis went to Malta in early April, he gave a newlywed couple an unexpected blessing. Danielle and Matthew were in the middle of their wedding celebrations when they decided to join the crowds waiting on the streets for Pope Francis’ motorcade to pass by. As he spotted them among the people, he asked his car to slow down so he could roll down the window and share a few words with the couple. The memorable moment was captured by the wedding videographers!
4. Some tequila to ease the knee pain?
In a viral video from May, Pope Francis can be seen exchanging with some Mexican seminarians from the Legion of Christ during a general audience. They ask him how his knee is doing and from the papamobile he replies it is “capricious.” The seminarians thank him for being at the audience despite the pain and say he is an example for future priests like themselves. “You know what I need for my knee?” the Pope asks them before pausing. “Some tequila!” he says, to the laughter of the seminarians, who promise to bring him a bottle if they ever come to Santa Marta.
5. “To govern, it is said that one must have the head, not the legs”
In May Pope Francis began using a wheelchair, igniting rumors about the state of his health and a possible imminent resignation. That same month, while addressing the Italian bishops during their plenary assembly, he apparently joked about the situation saying “to govern, it is said that one must have the head, not the legs.” In June, the Ambassador of Colombia to the Holy See had tweeted, saying that while the Pontiff was struggling with knee pain he is “not a soccer star, but a pastor.”
6. The “brave” children who have joined Pope Francis onstage at the general audience
On more than one occasion in 2022, Pope Francis was “interrupted” during the general audience by children climbing on stage. On August 17, there was a five-year-old boy who ran onto the stage of the Paul VI audience hall and then, looking almost starstruck, stood quietly and attentively by Pope Francis, who patted his head. In St. Peter’s Square on November 9, it was 11-year-old Paolo and his sister who went up to the Head of the Catholic Church. The Pontiff said they were “the two brave people of today.” Paolo, affected by a rare neurodegenerative disease, only one of two cases in Italy, had already run up and sat by the Pope during a general audience in 2021.
7. When the Pope called some priests in Naples
Time and time again when Pope Francis has had something to say he has called people directly on their cellphones. This year one of the lucky ones was Father Michele Madonna, a parish priest from Naples, who organized “Christian raves” for his young faithful. In August, the former DJ received a phone call from the Pontiff, who was curious about the priest’s popular initiative. A couple of months later Pope Francis also called another Neapolitan priest. It was Father Maurizio Patriciello, whom the Pontiff wanted to encourage in his fight and ministry, after he was threatened by the Camorra (the Neapolitan mafia) and had to be given a police escort.
8. The Pope’s 100th visit to Our Lady at St. Mary Major
On November 2, on the eve of Pope Francis’ trip to Bahrain, he went as usual to pray before the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. This was in fact his 100th visit to the icon, at which he prays before and after every international trip. For the occasion, a wreath of flowers marked with the number 100 adorned the portal of the Paolina Chapel, where the icon of the Virgin “Health of the Roman People” is located. The Pope’s first trip to this beloved icon was on March 14, 2013, the day after his election.
9. Brigitte Macron assures the Pope that she prays for him
On October 24 French President Emmanuel Macron visited Pope Francis at the Vatican. After a meeting that lasted almost an hour, as the Pontiff was saying goodbye to the President and his wife, Brigitte, he asked them to pray for him, as he usually does. To this Brigitte Macron replied gently, “I pray for you, I pray for you every day.”
10. “I have always been happy in the places where the Lord has placed and sent me”
In an interview with Italian daily La Stampa published on November 18, shortly before Pope Francis’ trip to Asti, he was unusually candid and profound as he reflected on the sense of his election and mission. “Thanks to my vocation, I have always been happy in the places where the Lord has placed and sent me. But not because ‘I won something,’ — I have not won anything … this is a service, and the Church asked me for it; I didn’t think I would be elected, and instead the Lord wanted it. So onwards. And I do what I can, every day, trying to never stop,” he said.
11. A birthday meal with a 90-year-old cousin!
On November 19 and 20, Pope Francis took a private trip for the first time since the beginning of his pontificate. He went to the small town of Asti, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, which is where his family originates from. Some of his family members still live there, such as his second cousin Carla Rabezzana. The Pontiff went up to Asti to have lunch with her and celebrate her 90th birthday, which was on November 8.
12. Warm smiles with Italian comedian Roberto Benigni
On December 7 Pope Francis met with Italian actor and comedian Roberto Benigni, best known for his Oscar-winning performance in the 1998 film Life is Beautiful. The following day Benigni’s new show on the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi was going to be broadcast. Over the years the two men have developed a friendly bond and the actor has worked on other productions on Catholiic themes. “When I was a kid, I used to say I wanted to be pope when I grew up, but since that made everyone laugh, I became a comedian,” Benigni once joked.