Not only had the church experienced the first papal resignation in 600 years, with Benedict XVI’s historic decision to step down from the papacy, but the church also got its first Jesuit pope and its first Latin American pope.
Thanks to the growth of social media platforms over the past decade, Francis is also the first real ‘digital’ pope, in the sense that he has accounts on most major social networks and thus has a higher global visibility than most of his predecessors likely did, meaning he quickly gained a reputation for the colourful soundbites he has often let fly.
Here is a rundown of some of the top papal soundbites since 2013:
Don’t forget the poor
This phrase is technically not from Pope Francis but is rather that of the late Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was sitting next to the new pope when the final votes were counted and it was obvious he’d been elected.
On that occasion, as Francis himself has recounted it, as the applause began to echo through the Sistine Chapel, Hummes whispered into his ear, ‘Don’t forget the poor’ – a remark which inspired the new pope to choose the papal name “Francis,” after St. Francis of Assisi, who was known as “the poor man of Assisi” and who was famed for his life of poverty and service to the needy.
While it was Hummes that uttered this phrase to him, Pope Francis has taken it to heart to such an extent, that it has become emblematic of much of his style as pope, often speaking out on behalf of the most marginalized and those on the “existential peripheries” of life, and prioritizing them in his travels.
The smell of the sheep
Yet another famous papal soundbite that Francis has continually recycled throughout his time in office is for priests to take on “the smell of the sheep,” being pastors close to their people, rather than administrators governing from a stale, cold office.
He first uttered the phrase in a Chrism Mass barely two weeks after his election in March 2013, telling priests in an off-the-cuff remark during his homily that, “This is what I am asking you, be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”
This one soundbite neatly sums up Pope Francis’s entire approach to pastoral care and practice, and it quickly set the tone for his expectations of the clergy under his guidance.
Church as a field hospital
Perhaps one of the most poignant images of the church that Pope Francis has conjured was his description early on of the church as “a field hospital” during an interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, in August 2013.
During that conversation, which took place in three different meetings, Francis said, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”
“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else,” he said.
In this one soundbite, Pope Francis painted out his entire vision for the church’s role, and that of its pastors, in the world, which has underpinned much of his own pastoral decisions, including, among other things, those coming out of the 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family (communion for the divorced and remarried), the Synod on the Amazon (protecting indigenous populations), and even his outreach to the LGBTQ community.
Pretty much from the beginning of his reign until now, the “throwaway culture,” or the “culture of waste,” has been a constant refrain for Pope Francis, who early on defined the term as when, “Human life, the person, are no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded.”
The “throwaway culture” is a topic the pope returns to often in his public speeches and homilies, and it was also a major underlining theme of his 2015 eco-encyclical Laudato Si, in which he used the term to condemn not only wasteful consumerism, but naked capital interests and the pursuit of profit at the expense of people, values, and communities when they appear to lack immediate or quantifiable value.
He has used this term in reference to vast categories of people, saying that among the throwaway culture’s many victims are unborn children lost to abortion, which he has also likened to hiring “a hitman” to solve a problem; the elderly, who are often abandoned by family and who was a special priority during COVID lockdowns due to the isolation they experienced; youth who face unemployment and a lack of opportunities; the environment, and the poor.
Please, thank you and I’m sorry
Donning his pastoral hat, Pope Francis offered the world another classic soundbite during a general audience in 2015, giving faithful on that occasion what he said were three key words to any healthy marriage: “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
These words “open up the road to a good family life,” he said but cautioned that while simple, they are “not so easy to put into practice,” requiring a keen ability for self-reflection and an ability to swallow one’s pride.
This has become one of Pope Francis’s most repeated counsels for marriage and family life, along with his frequent exhortation for couples to always reconcile before going to bed, saying often that “plates can fly,” but couples must never go to bed angry or without making peace.
While there are countless other phrases Pope Francis has used over the years – likening gossip to “terrorism” and condemning “rigidity” among the clergy, which some have interpreted as a critique of traditionalist-leaning conservative Catholics, or his insistence on forgiveness – these are among the most memorable, and tone-setting for his papacy.
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