As the head of the set-in-its-ways, traditional Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis is something of an outlier. He has refused the signifiers of his position, which during Emeritus Pope Benedict’s time included ermine trim on bright red hats and capes (via The Guardian). The ring he wears is not made of heavy gold, but silver; and he wears the same cross that he wore as archbishop of the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires (via The Wall Street Journal).
Even as the Vatican made waves among Catholic liberals for saying it could not bless same-sex unions, the pope decided to go against recommendations by traveling during a pandemic to the war-torn country of Iraq for a three-day visit, becoming the first pope to visit in at least 20 years. John Paul II had wanted to visit in 2000, but canceled the trip after security in the region deteriorated (via The New York Times).
Numerous articles have been written about Pope Francis, but there may still be a few facts we don’t know about the man who is determined to keep the vow that he made on the day he ascended the throne: not to forget the poor (via The Catholic Telegraph).
Pope Francis is descended from Italian immigrants who settled in Argentina
Pope Francis may be the first Argentinian pope in the history of the Catholic Church, but his roots are as Italian as most of the popes that preceded him. In a dramatic retelling of the circumstances surrounding the family’s decision to leave the northeastern Italian province of Piedmont in 1928, the pope’s biographers Luis Rosales and Daniel Olivera said the family’s decision to leave Italy was made when they witnessed Benito Mussolini’s rise to power. The authors also say that the Bergoglios had originally intended to leave Italy aboard the Principessa Mafada, but ended up staying at the last minute because they could not sell their house.
In doing so, the family avoided the fate of more than 1,261 people when the luxury liner sank off the coast of Brazil. The family would end up departing 14 months later on another vessel, after Bergoglio’s grandmother, Rosa Margarita, had managed to sell her home and her pastry business (via Francis: A Pope for Our Time, p. 5-15)
Pope Francis’ name has a family association
When Jorge Bergoglio became the head of the Catholic Church, he picked an out-of-the-box name for the very traditional role. He chose to be called Francis, after Francis of Assisi, the Catholic saint who he called "the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation, [and the same created world] with which we don’t have such a good relationship" (via The Catholic Telegraph).
The Pope would have also had another good reason to call himself "Francis." As the Argentine newspaper La Nación points out, the pope’s father, Jose Mario Francisco Bergoglio, also carried the name of the popular saint. The paper points out that even though he doesn’t speak of his family often, Pope Francis is quite close to them. He was born the oldest of five, but the pope and his sister, Maria Elena, are the only surviving members. He also has nephews, one of whom runs a non-profit organization in Argentina. Another, like the pope, is a member of the Jesuit order.
Pope Francis takes his Jesuit vow of poverty very seriously
While all priests are expected to live "simply," Pope Francis belongs to an order of priests that have also taken a vow of "poverty." While he was released from that vow when he became a bishop (via CNN), then-Cardinal Bergoglio continued to live simply. Instead of getting new robes made, he had existing ones altered to fit him (via Vatican News). Even though he was entitled to live in an opulent residence as Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he continued to travel around the city by bus, stay in a small apartment, and prepared his own dinner (via The Telegraph).
In a much publicized move, a Vatican spokesman also said the pope had opted out of moving to the papal apartments, which are located on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. Instead, Pope Francis lives in a simple suite in the Vatican guesthouse. During the early days, he was even known for eating dinner at the common dining room (via The Arlington Catholic Herald), although it is not known whether the practice might have changed since that time.
Pope Francis has a wicked sense of humor
Pope Francis might have a serious job, but he doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously. During one 2018 interview, the pope said, "If one doesn’t have a sense of humour, it’s very difficult to be happy; it’s necessary not to take oneself too seriously … A sense of humour is fundamental to be able to breathe, because it’s linked to the capacity to enjoy life, to be enthusiastic" (via Independent Catholic News).
When he was first elected, his first words as pope to the cardinals that chose him were: "May God forgive you for what you have done." That same day, his nephew Jose Ignacio had been at the receiving end of a practical joke or two, too. He recalls that on the night his uncle was named Pope, the phone rang at 10 in the evening "When I picked up the phone, I heard a strange voice saying ‘hello.’ The voice sounded familiar, but I had no idea who it was. So when I asked who I was speaking [to], he said ‘it’s Jorge, stupid!" (via YouTube).
He’s also made a few cracks about the family. The pope took the opportunity to remind young couples on Valentine’s Day that: ‘We all know the perfect family does not exist. The perfect husband does not exist and the perfect wife does not exist." After a brief pause, the pope added: "Let’s not even talk about perfect mothers-in-law" (via Alive Publishing).
The frugal pope doesn’t like flashy cars
Pope Francis doesn’t have a taste for expensive cars — which may also not be surprising, given that during his years as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he traveled by metro or by bus (via Vatican News). He gave up the Mercedes popemobile with its white leather chair and gold trim used by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and instead, scoots around in a Fiat or Ford. He has also been quoted as telling young priests and nuns to stay away from fast cars, saying, "It hurts my heart when I see a priest with the latest model car" (via The Telegraph).
So what happened when Lamborghini decided to give Francis a limited-edition Huracán, in the same white and yellow that matched his cassock and which retailed for 180,000 euros in 2017? He blessed the car and dispatched it to Sotheby’s so its proceeds could benefit three charities closest to his heart (via Automobili Lamborghini). The same fate befell a fancy Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he autographed and sold to help fund a charity hostel and food kitchen in Rome.
At least the brands can’t say they weren’t warned.