The Middle East gets a Papal blessing: 13 facts about Pope Francis and his Holy Land Tour

Published May 25th, 2014 - 08:08 GMT

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Pope Francis
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Image 1 of 13: Syria spawned the last non-European pope when Gregory III was elected - in 731 AD! Pope Francis is from Argentina - born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936 to Italian immigrants. He’s the first Latin American pope and the first Jesuit pope. Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests known for their ability to found colleges with good basketball teams!

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Image 1 of 13: No private jets for Papa Frank - his Jordan flight was on Alitalia airlines! He chose his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century monk known for his charity.The former archbishop of Buenos Aires led a simple life, living in a spartan apartment where he cooked his own meals. He used mass transit and always flew in coach!

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Image 1 of 13: Dance leaves him breathless! Despite losing a lung from a teenage illness, he’s a tango fan. "I love tango and used to dance when I was young," he told the authors of his 2010 biography El Jesuita. But he’s no sissy! In university, he worked as a bouncer in a Buenos Aires bar to help pay for school. Can I see your ID?

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Image 1 of 13: This pope has a long and varied CV! While in university (studying chemistry, philosophy, and theology), he worked as an assistant in chemical labs, but also worked as a janitor. You know what they say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness!”

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Image 1 of 13: Where’s the “Pope-mobile”? According to the Christian Post, he traded it in months ago for a 30-year-old Renault 4 with 186,000 miles on the meter. He was gifted a motorcycle after blessing hundreds of Harley Davidson owners and their bikes at St. Peter’s Square, then he sold it at auction to benefit the homeless.

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Image 1 of 13: Want to follow his Holy Land highlights? Easy peasy, as this pope rocks social media with active Facebook and Twitter accounts. Apparently the devoted don’t do much FB (not quite a quarter million friends to date), but they are all over Twitter like it’s church hall bingo - over four million followers and growing!

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Image 1 of 13: Forget the Dead Sea Scrolls - you can read this pope’s teachings on a Kindle! Whilst the archbishop of Argentina, the would-be pope and Rabbi Abraham Skorka tirelessly promoted dialogue between Muslims and Christians and Jews. In 2010, they co-authored "Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth)", which nabbed a 4.5 star Amazon review!

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Image 1 of 13: Speaking of books, Papa likes The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. In fact, in 2008 he mentioned the author during an Easter message to Argentine teachers, citing Frodo and Bilbo as good examples of hopeful heroes who are called to walk a path between good and evil. Tolkien wrote, “Where there's life there's hope.”

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Image 1 of 13: In 2005, he almost lost his job for criticizing Pope Benedict XVI, who quoted a medieval text that called Islam’s founder "evil & inhuman". Francis’s reaction? “The pope’s words don't reflect my opinions. These statements will destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam built over the last 20 years".

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Image 1 of 13: Did a snub from his childhood sweetheart create a pope? A woman revealed she rejected his boyhood offer of marriage, a move which eventually led him to devote his life to God. Her 12-year-old boyfriend allegedly declared: "If I can't marry you, I'll become a priest." Maybe if Baba Frank says priests can marry, she’ll have another shot!

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Image 1 of 13: The cheeky pope says Martians have a right to be baptised! Extending his message of inclusivity to outer space, his jokey comments were part of a serious message about everyone having the right to baptism, should they wish it. He said this month that the Church should not “close the doors” to anyone. Equality to Martians! (We love his humor!)

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Image 1 of 13: Step aside Pixar! The new pontiff approved production of a 3D movie on the life of Pope John Paul ll screened worldwide on the eve of announcing his sainthood. In Poland, crowds gathered at the Palace of Krakow Bishops, where Pope JPll once lived - the film was screened on the palace walls. Will 3D glasses join rosary beads as basic Catholic kit?

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Image 1 of 13: The 266th pope speaks Italian, German and Spanish fluently, in addition to passable English, French and Portuguese. Maybe his Holy Land tour will spark an interest in Arabic? At the very least, he’ll need to pick up key phrases like “Pass the falafel!” and “More mint tea, please!” when he’s out here.

Pope Francis is blowing through the Holy Land on a whirlwind whistlestop tour as he visits Jordan, Israel, and Palestine from May 24-26, offering many of us a first-hand view of the man who became leader to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics in March 2013. His visit comes near the the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Middle East.

On Saturday, his Holiness flew in on a chartered Alitalia flight into Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport - (no fancy-pants private jet for him!). Following a royal arrival ceremony, he performed Mass for thousands of raucous believers in Amman’s sports stadium, which was also attended by Christian refugees from Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. He was next whisked to the Baptismal Site at Bethany Beyond Jordan, where he met with more refugees and the disabled. Sunday he’s off to Bethlehem, then Jerusalem, before flying out of Tel Aviv on Monday. It’s a schedule that would exhaust the Rolling Stones!

His three day trip has been billed as a "pilgrimage for prayer," rooted in faith and peace - not politics. In this region where secular and spiritual matters are thoroughly intertwined, and where human need is often overwhelming, every one of his words will be evaluated for hidden meaning.

At the Amman service, the Pope urged everyone to set aside grievances, to embrace diversity, and aim for tolerance. That said, Vatican news sources suggest he may take this opportunity to restate the Vatican’s long-standing call for peace between Israel and Palestine. When there’s an open microphone handy, it’s good to be pope!

"I grasp this opportunity to renew my esteem and respect for the Muslim community and show my appreciation for the work carried out by his Majesty the King, which is promoting further understanding between peoples of different faith and communities of different faith," he said.

Pope Francis has become one of the most recognizable figures on the planet, named as Time magazine’s “2013 Person of the Year” (just beating Egypt’s Sisi!) Able to speak in six languages, his communication skills surpass language.  He comes across as approachable, loving, and tolerant.  Best known for his humility, he also has a wicked sense of humor.

He’s taken bold steps to reform the church’s tarnished image.  He’s credited with the worldwide surge in church attendance, and a spike in tourism to Rome and the Vatican City has been pinned on his wide appeal.


See what makes this amazing man tick - some of these facts are guaranteed to tickle!

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