It was just after 7 pm on 13 March 2013 when Jorge Mario Bergoglio looked out from his balcony onto St. Peter’s Square and said in Italian: ‘Brothers and sisters, good evening’.
This was the beginning of Pope Francis’ journey. A pontificate marked by memorable moments, epochal journeys and phrases that would rewrite history.
To celebrate his 10th anniversary as head of the Roman Catholic Church, here are ten of the most salient events of Bergoglio’s pontificate:
Only in St. Peter’s Square
On March 27, 2020, Pope Francis presided over a moment of prayer in the square of St. Peter’s Basilica. Before him was an unusually empty square. Two weeks earlier, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and the whole of Italy went into lockdown.
Francis prayed: “Lord, bless the world, give health to the bodies and comfort to the hearts,” he said before the Eucharistic adoration and the Urbi et Orbi blessing.
The Pope of Migrants
“I felt I had to come here to pray.” With these words Pope Francis began his homily at the Lampedusa stadium on 8 July 2013, on his first pastoral trip outside Rome.
Even then the pontiff’s message was clear: “The globalization of indifference has deprived us of the ability to cry. We ask forgiveness for our indifference”. And it was certainly not indifference that prompted him to take twelve refugees with him on the return flight from the Greek island of Lesvos, hosted in Rome by the Catholic lay association Sant’Egidio in 2016.
The Vatican then hosted several migrant families.
The Pope and the women
“A better, more just, inclusive and fully sustainable world cannot be pursued without the contribution of women”, wrote the pontiff in the preface to the book ‘More Women’s Leadership for a Better World’.
According to a survey conducted by Vatican News, 1,165 women currently work at the Vatican, the highest number of female employees ever to work at the Holy See.
At the beginning of Francis’ pontificate there were 846. For the first time in 2021, a female secretary was appointed to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the highest position ever held by a woman at the Holy See.
Prayer at the Wailing Wall
On May 26, 2014, just over a year after his election, Pope Francis visited Jerusalem. “Let no one exploit the name of God for violence, but let us work together for justice and peace,” he said in the Holy City.
He first met Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein on the Esplanade of the Mosques, a place sacred to Islam, then he embraced the Argentinean imam Aboud and the Buenos Aires rabbi Skorka at the Wailing Wall, where he stopped for a moment of prayer.
Finally he went to Mount Herzl, to visit the tomb containing the remains of the founder of the Zionist Movement and the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.
The trip to Congo and South Sudan
On the occasion of his 40th apostolic journey, Pope Francis traveled from January 31 to February 5 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan.
In Juba, Francis invited the population to “overcome those antipathies and aversions which, over time, have become chronic and risk turning tribes and ethnic groups against each other”.
Meeting the authorities he asked: “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual accusations against those who commit them, no more leaving the people thirsting for peace”.
Previously in Kinshasa he had said “Hands off Africa! Don’t suffocate it anymore: it is not a mine to be exploited or a land to be plundered”.
The Penitential Pilgrimage to Canada
In May 2021, the remains of 215 children are found in a mass grave on the grounds of a former Indian residential school in British Columbia.
A scandal soon emerged involving schools founded by the Canadian government in the 19th century and administered by the Catholic Church.
Under the Indian Act of 1876 and the Indian Residential School System (IRSS), institutions removed Indigenous children from their communities in an effort to replace Indigenous languages, culture and identity with Euro-Canadian values.
In July 2022, Bergoglio visited indigenous children and asked for forgiveness: “I am deeply saddened, I feel indignation and shame. I apologize for the ways in which, sadly, many Christians have supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that have oppressed the indigenous peoples”.
It was March 28, 2013, two weeks after his election, when Bergoglio chose the juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo, in Rome, for maundy or foot washing.
Fifty young prisoners, including girls, participate in the ritual, letting the Pope wash their feet, dry them and kiss them.
He subsequently repeated the action in other prisons, centers for the disabled and migrant centres. According to His Holiness, it has always been an act of love, repeating what Jesus did with his disciples in the Gospel.
“Who am I to judge?”
On a return flight from Brazil, in July 2013, Pope Francis spoke of homosexuality: «The problem is lobbies of any tendency: political lobbies, Masonic lobbies and even gay lobbies. Not all lobbies are good. While if one is gay and seeks the Lord, who am I to judge him? These people must not be discriminated against or marginalized.”
Ten years later, in an interview with the Associated Press, he crystallized the states’ laws criminalizing homosexuality, calling them unjust.
He urged Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the Church. “Homosexuality is not a crime,” she said.
The Synod for the Pan-Amazonian Region
On October 6, 2019, the Synod for the Amazon opened in Rome, a major ecclesial, civil and ecological project that aimed to overcome borders and redefine pastoral lines, adapting them to the modern age.
The main objective, to use the pontiff’s words, was “to find new ways to evangelize rural communities, especially indigenous groups, often forgotten and with no prospects for a serene future, also due to the crisis in the Amazon forest, a lung of fundamental importance to our planet”.
During a flight from the Chilean cities of Santiago to Iquique in January 2018, Francis surprisingly married a couple on board. Two Latam Airlines stewards celebrated a civil ceremony but were forced to cancel their religious wedding because the church they had chosen had collapsed during the 2010 earthquake. Bergoglio decided to marry the couple himself.
While His Holiness is widely praised for his progressive views, his pontificate is also marked by several scandals, such as the corruption trial of the disgraced Cardinal Angelo Becciu or the more recent revelations of sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church.