Pope Francis Charms Journalists

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 16 2013 12:10 PM

Pope Francis Charms as he Cracks Jokes in First Address to Journalists

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Pope Francis pats a guide dog during a private audience for members of the media

Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI,ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

The new pope had already given hints that he wanted to take the Catholic Church in a new direction—he insisted on paying his bill at the hotel where he stayed before he was elected, he rejected the use of the papal limousine—and on Saturday he made his intentions clear, saying he wants a more austere church. But first, it was time to charm. Sitting in front of an estimated 5,000 reporters, he thanked journalists for their work and quickly made it evident “he had no intention of shedding his populist manner,” notes USA Today. At one point he broke from script, looked up at the reporters and smiled: “You have been working hard, eh?”

"It's the first time I ever heard a pope cracking jokes,” said Eric Reguly, Rome correspondent for the Toronto Globe & Mail. “Even John Paul, who had a connection with people, didn't show a sense of humor like this.”

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After reading a prepared text, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said he wanted to tell the story of how he chose his name. In the process he revealed first-hand information into the secretive conclave, points out the Los Angeles Times. (Watch video of his remarks after the jump.) The pope says that when it was clear the balloting was going his way, the retired archbishop of Sao Paulo—“my dear friend”—told him not to forget the poor. “And that's how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi,” famous for devoting his life to the poor. "Oh how I would like a poor church and a church for the poor," Francis said with a sigh.

It was then time to turn on the humor again, saying someone suggested Clement, a strange proposal considering the last Clement is widely remembered for suppressing Jesuits. When Francis asked why he would choose the name, the cheekiness of the suggestion became clear: “That way you get revenge on Clement XIV.” And when a visually impaired journalist for Italian radio approached the pope with his seeing eye dog and asked for a blessing for his wife and daughter, the pope added: “A blessing for the dog too,” before bending down and patting the dog, reports the Associated Press.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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