It’s ten years since Pope Francis was elected to lead the Catholic Church.
In the decade since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio emerged onto the balcony above St Peter’s Basilica as Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father has given extraordinary service to the Church and the world.
Whether it’s the witness he’s shown to the Gospel in his encounters with the most marginalised members of our global family, or his words of wisdom for young people and world leaders alike, Pope Francis has inspired countless people to work for a better world.
We’ve picked ten of our favourite moments and important events from Pope Francis’s papacy so far.
1. Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis’s mission statement for the Church
Pope Francis has published numerous key letters and documents in his time as Pope.
The Holy Father set the tone for his papacy only a few months after his election in 2013 with a document called Evangelii Gaudium, or 'The Joy of the Gospel'.
The document was effectively a mission statement for “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets”.
Francis made clear that the Church must be on the side of people living in poverty and demand action to tackle the causes of poverty. He called for an end to financial systems that prioritise profit over people, declaring that a new version of the ten commandments must be to say “thou shalt not” to “an economy of exclusion and inequality”.
2. First trip outside Rome: Lampedusa
As with so many moments through his papacy, Pope Francis used a grand gesture to indicate what would be one of his priorities as Pope.
In this case, it was the Pope’s decision to visit the island of Lampedusa for his first trip outside Rome – an island off the coast of Italy where thousands of people escaping poverty and persecution have arrived in Europe, with many losing their lives in dinghies and small boats in the Mediterranean Sea.
A year after the visit to Lampedusa, the Pope warned in a speech to the European Parliament that politicians’ failure to provide migrants and refugees with safe ways of leaving their home countries risked turning the Mediterranean into a “vast cemetery”.
3. Showing world leaders how to lead
In a distinctively humble way, Pope Francis has epitomised servant leadership – and shown other heads of state what leadership looks like.
That’s often involved reminding politicians what their priorities should be, not least in 2015 when Pope Francis spoke at the United Nations General Assembly and the US Congress.
The Holy Father declared the Sustainable Development Goals to be “an important sign of hope” when he spoke at the UN – while reminding them that “solemn commitments” without action to turn them into a reality were not enough.
In Washington, Pope Francis succeeded in bringing a divided Congress together in applause for a message which urged lawmakers to work in a “spirit of cooperation” to put politics “at the service of the human person”, fighting against poverty, environmental damage and conflict.
4. Laudato Si’ and the Paris Agreement
Few people can say they’ve written a letter that’s been reported on news channels worldwide, debated in a US presidential election and cited by heads of government as a catalyst for an historic international agreement.
Yet that’s what Pope Francis achieved with his second encyclical.
Laudato Si’ is one of the most important documents written this century. The Pope’s letter, addressed to “every person living on this planet”, is a clarion call for us to care for the earth – our common home.
That means changing the ways we live our lives: tackling the climate crisis and ending the “throwaway culture”.
It also means making sure our sisters and brothers in the world’s most marginalised communities – those who are most affected by the damage caused to our common home, and yet who are least responsible for causing the climate crisis – are not treated as an “afterthought” by decision makers.
Pope Francis made no secret of the fact that he wanted decision makers involved in the important global summits that took place in 2015 to listen to his message. And he got his wish: numerous leaders and diplomats involved in the COP21 climate conference stated that Laudato Si’ was a key force in the success of the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement.
But it’s not just on the geopolitical front that Laudato Si’ has caused shockwaves. Countless parishes, schools, dioceses, religious orders and health providers worldwide have committed themselves to take action in solidarity with our global family and to care for our common home.
5. Year of Mercy
As if 2015 wasn’t already busy enough for Pope Francis, the Holy Father proclaimed a ‘Year of Mercy’ for the Church to mark.
This ‘extraordinary jubilee’ encouraged Catholics worldwide to undertake works of mercy, with CAFOD supporters responding especially by calling for action to care for refugees and migrants.
Fix the food system
Our global food system is broken. Over 800 million people go hungry, and the way we produce much of our food harms our planet.
In 2023, the second phase of our Fix the Food System campaign will focus on the issue of seeds. Seeds are at the very heart of the food system. They are part of nature and given by God for the benefit of all but increasingly farmers’ rights to choose their own seeds are under threat. We’ll have an activity for parishes after Easter about this issue.
6. 'Share the Journey' refugees and migrants campaign
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has called for us to ‘welcome the stranger’ by ensuring that migrants and refugees are able to leave their homelands without risking their lives so they can live safely and with dignity.
In 2017, the Pope issued a call for governments to respond to the needs of refugees and migrants, reflecting on how Jesus himself had been a refugee.
Weeks later, Pope Francis launched the 'Share the Journey' campaign which Catholics in parishes and schools around England and Wales supported, walking tens of thousands of miles in solidarity with refugees and migrants.
7. Calling for peace in South Sudan
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in conflict in South Sudan since the world’s newest country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
Pope Francis made one of his most memorable and profound gestures when he invited the leaders of the previously warring factions in the country to the Vatican in 2019 – kissing the feet of the two men as he issued a plea for peace.
The Pope repeated his call for an end to violence when he travelled in January 2023 to South Sudan on a ‘pilgrimage for peace’ with Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
8. Listening to the voices of young people
Pope Francis made clear in Laudato Si’ how important a role young people have to play in efforts to care for our common home and our global family.
But the Pope sought to highlight just how crucial young people are to the Church’s mission by inviting bishops to listen to the voices of young people in a special forum or ‘synod’ he convened in the Vatican.
The letter the Pope wrote to young people after the synod, Christus Vivit – or ‘Christ is Alive’ – reminded young people that everyone has a vocation, with Francis calling on them “to dream great things, to seek vast horizons… and to offer the best of themselves to the building of something better.”
9. Listening to the voices of people in the Amazon
The Holy Father has made listening a crucial theme of his papacy, and his call for the Church and the world to listen and learn from the people of the Amazon is a key example.
In a letter following a synod on the Amazon, Francis reminded the world of the need to care for the region by working alongside indigenous peoples and communities in the Amazon who possess “a wisdom that has been passed down for centuries from generation to generation”.
The Pope decried the impact of businesses that harm the peoples and the environment of the Amazon, denouncing this as “injustice and crime” and demanding that indigenous peoples be able to give or withhold consent to projects or propose alternatives.
10. Building a better world after the pandemic
One of the defining images of the pandemic is Pope Francis leading benediction in pouring rain in an empty St Peter’s Square.
With millions worldwide watching from home, the Pope led prayers, giving thanks for the essential workers and volunteers serving their communities during lockdown and urging us “to seize this time of trial” to reflect on the things that matter most.
The Holy Father issued this call again later in the year, using his encyclical Fratelli Tutti to urge us in our rush to return to normality to instead build a “better normal” – one where we work together to address the “hidden pandemics” of hunger, inequality and the climate crisis, recognising that what affects people in one part of the world affects us all.
Laudate Deum: Your questions answered
The Vatican released the new Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, Laudate Deum, on 4 October. It has been called a follow up to Laudato Si’.