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It was just after 7 pm local time on 13 March 2013 when Jorge Mario Bergoglio looked out from his balcony over St Peter’s Square and said in Italian: ‘Brothers and sisters, good evening’.
This was the beginning of Pope Francis’ journey. A papacy marked by memorable moments, landmark journeys and phrases that would rewrite history.
To mark his 10th anniversary as head of the Roman Catholic Church here are ten of the most salient events of Bergoglio’s pontificate:
Alone in St Peter’s Square
On 27 March 2020, Pope Francis presided over a moment of prayer on the parvis of St Peter’s Basilica. In front of him, was an unusually empty square. A fortnight prior, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and the whole of Italy went into lockdown.
Francis prayed: “Lord, bless the world, give health to bodies and comfort to hearts,” he said before the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 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, for his first pastoral journey outside of Rome.
Even then, the pontiff’s message was clear: “The globalisation of indifference has robbed us of the ability to weep. We ask forgiveness for our indifference”. And it was certainly not indifference that prompted him to take with him on the return flight from the Greek island of Lesbos, twelve refugees, who were hosted in Rome by the Catholic lay association, Sant’Egidio, in 2016.
The Vatican went on to host several families of migrants.
The Pope and women
“A better, more just, inclusive and fully sustainable world cannot be pursued without the contribution of women,” wrote the pontiff in his 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 in the Vatican, the highest number of female employees to ever work at the Holy See.
At the beginning of Francis’ pontificate, there were 846. At the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, a female secretary was appointed for the first time in 2021, the highest position ever held by a woman at the Holy See.
Prayer at the Wailing Wall
On 26 May 2014, just over a year after his election, Pope Francis visited Jerusalem. “Let no one instrumentalise 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 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 Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
The trip to Congo and South Sudan
For his 40th apostolic journey, Pope Francis travelled from January 31 to February 5 to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
In Juba, Francis invited the population to “overcome those antipathies and aversions that, over time, have become chronic and risk pitting tribes and ethnic groups against each other”.
Meeting with the authorities he asked: “No more bloodshed, no more conflict, no more violence and mutual accusations on those who commit them, no more leaving the people thirsting for peace”.
Previously in Kinshasa, he had said “Hands off Africa! No more suffocating it: 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 Colombia.
A scandal soon emerged involving schools founded by the Canadian government in the 19th century and administered by the Catholic Church.
Under the 1876 Indian Act and the Indian Residential School System (IRSS) institutions removed the Indigenous children from their communities in a bid 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 ask forgiveness for the ways in which, unfortunately, many Christians have supported the colonising mentality of the powers that have oppressed the Indigenous peoples”.
The washing of the feet
It was on March 28, 2013, two weeks after his election, when Bergoglio choose the juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo, Rome for maundy or the washing of the feet.
Fifty young inmates, including girls, participate in the rite, letting the Pope wash their feet, dry them and kiss them.
He later repeated the action in other prisons, centres for the disabled and migrant centres. According to his Holiness, it has always been an act of love, to repeat 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 about homosexuality: “The problem is lobbying of any tendency: political lobbying, Masonic lobbying and also gay lobbying. All lobbies are not good. Whereas if one is gay and seeks the Lord, who am I to judge him? These people should not be discriminated against or marginalised”.
Ten years later, in an interview with the Associated Press, he crystallised the laws of states that criminalise homosexuality, calling them unjust.
He urged Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the Church. “Homosexuality is not a crime,” he said.
The Synod for the Pan-Amazonian Region
The Synod for the Amazon opened in Rome on 6 October 2019, a major ecclesial, civil and ecological project which aimed to cross borders and redefine pastoral lines, adapting them for the modern age.
The main objective, to use the pontiff’s words, was to “find new ways to evangelise to rural communities, particularly Indigenous groups, who are often forgotten about and without the prospect of a serene future, also because of the crisis of the Amazon forest, a lung of fundamental importance for our planet”.
On a flight from the Chilean cities of Santiago to Iquique in January 2018, Francis surprisingly married a couple onboard. Two stewards with Latam Airlines had a civil ceremony but were forced to cancel their religious wedding because the church they had chosen had collapsed in the 2010 earthquake. Bergoglio decided to marry the pair himself.
While his Holiness is widely praised for his progressive views, his pontificate is also marred with several scandals, such as the disgraced Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s corruption trial or the more recent revelations of sexual abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church.