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10 iconic moments in Pope Francis’ first 10 years as pontiff

The Columbian
Published: March 13, 2023, 8:23am

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marks the 10th anniversary of his election as pope on Monday. During that decade, several historic occasions, as well as several unplanned events, helped define the contours and priorities of history’s first Latin American pontiff. Visits with refugees in Italy and Greece, trips to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and the coronavirus pandemic and the death of his predecessor are some of the iconic moments that have shaped his papacy and influenced the direction of the Catholic Church at large.

  • July 8, 2013: Francis travels to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa for his first pastoral visit outside Rome to denounce the “globalization of indifference” that greets migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe. The plight of refugees would go on to become a major concern of his pontificate, including when he returned from Greece in 2016 with 12 Syrian migrants aboard his plane.
  • July 29, 2013: During his first airborne press conference as pope, Francis is asked about a purportedly gay priest and replies, “Who am I to judge?” His comment while flying home from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro signaled a more conciliatory, welcoming tone for LGBTQ Catholics who long felt marginalized by the church.
  • Nov. 29, 2015: Francis starts his yearlong Jubilee of Mercy by opening the holy door of the Bangui cathedral, bringing his message of peace to the conflict-wracked Central African Republic. His emphasis on the church being a merciful “field hospital” of welcome would long outlast the official jubilee year.
  • Feb. 13, 2016: “We are brothers,” Francis says as he becomes the first pope to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. The historic meeting in Havana, Cuba, wouldn’t be repeated, as hoped, following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
  • Feb. 4, 2019: Francis signs a document pledging Christian-Muslim cooperation to work for peace with the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning, during the first-ever papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula. The “Human Fraternity” document would go onto become a cornerstone of the pope’s effort to forge better relations with the Muslim world.
  • Oct. 21, 2019: Conservative Catholic activists steal three Amazonian Indigenous statues from a Vatican-area church and throw them in the Tiber River, claiming they were pagan idols. The so-called “Pachamama” stunt during Francis’ synod on the Amazon epitomized the depth of conservative opposition to the pope, which only intensified after he launched a crackdown on the use of the old Latin Mass.
  • Nov. 24, 2019: Standing at the memorial to victims of the U.S. atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan, Francis declares that not only the use but the mere possession of nuclear weapons is “immoral.” Francis’ position modified the Catholic Church’s position, which previously held that nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable in the interim as long as it was used toward mutual, verifiable nuclear disarmament.
  • March 27, 2020: Francis prays in a hauntingly empty St. Peter’s Square for an end to the coronavirus pandemic on the day that Italy recorded the biggest jump in COVID-19 deaths. “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us now called to row together, each of us in need of comforting each other,” he says.
  • July 26, 2022: On the grounds of a former residential school in Canada, Francis apologizes to Indigenous peoples for the “catastrophic” and “evil” policy of forcibly assimilating Native peoples into Christian society. His Canadian apology tour followed a 2015 mea culpa in Bolivia for the “sins, offenses and crimes” of Europe’s colonial-era conquest of the Americas.
  • Jan. 5, 2023: Francis bids farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, presiding over his funeral in St. Peter’s Square and closing out an unprecedented chapter in the history of the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church.
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