Pope Francis plunged headlong on Thursday into some of the most divisive issues in Catholicism — speaking expansively about how the church must lighten its emphasis on fighting abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
But buried deep in a 12,000-word interview with a Jesuit journal was a more personal nugget: The man loves Mozart. He finds Wagner impressive and Bach sublime, but the Holy Father will take Mozart any day.
“The ‘Et incarnates est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless. It lifts you to God!” Francis gushed. “Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music. I have to listen to it.”
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791), one of the most important composers in the Western musical tradition, circa 1775.
Maybe it’s his humble bearing, or maybe it’s just that he’s the first pope installed in the age of the Facebook Like button. But say this for Francis: We know quite a bit about his personal taste.
We’ve had glimpses into the predilections of previous popes. The last man to hold the job, Benedict XVI, was known to love Christmas cookies and orange soda, and was himself a fan of Mozart.
But Benedict was temperamentally private, an academic, whereas Francis has shown himself to be “intensely pastoral” — more likely to connect one-on-one, said Matthew Bunson, senior correspondent for the Catholic publishing nonprofit Our Sunday Visitor and author of a biography of Francis.
The curiosities make for interesting reading, but they also have a real effect on the church, he said. Francis’ open-book personality sets an example for priests to connect with the faithful, and it shows the flock that he is engaged with the world, Bunson said.
“I don’t recall reading an interview with a pope with so many different references to culture,” he said. “Here’s somebody who is not isolated from the rest of the world, from wider culture. That itself has great repercussions.”
Here, a sampling of the pontifical preferences.
L'Osservatore Romano, Riccardo Aguiar via AP
Pope Francis took a selfie with youths from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio inside St. Peter's Basilica in August.
— Selfies. Benedict XVI started the official Vatican Twitter account, @pontifex, and Francis makes use of it almost daily. (Why not? He already has more than a billion followers.)
But the new pope is just as much an Instagram guy. In August, a group of 500 young people was visiting the Vatican from a diocese in Italy. He called them “bearers of hope,” and then mugged for the camera. Behold, the papal selfie.
— Cold calls. It’s the pope calling. No, seriously, it’s the pope. Francis has made a habit of placing personal phone calls to parishioners who have written him letters, including a rape victim in Argentina and a distraught mother-to-be in Italy.
The pope has picked up the phone often enough that the Vatican had to stamp out a rumor that he rang up Syrian leader Bashar Assad — and has suggested some people might even be doing their best Francis in prank calls.
Ponti-De Laurentiis Cinematografica / Getty Images
Anthony Quinn continues to bite down on a metal chain as he pulls it away from him in a scene from the film 'La Strada', 1954.
— Italian film. In the interview Thursday, Francis rhapsodized about the fine arts. He loves Puccini’s Turandot, the paintings of Chagall and Caravaggio, the poetry of the German Romantic Friedrich Hölderlin. Then he insisted on talking about cinema.
He reminisced about the days when his parents would take him to the movies. And he had high praise for Fellini’s La Strada, the 1954 story of a girl bought by a globetrotting entertainer — partly, he said, because it makes an implicit reference to St. Francis.
Osservatore Romano / Reuters
Pope Francis, right, is presented with a Renault 4 car during a private audience with Don Renzo Zocca at the Vatican on Sept. 7, 2013.
— Getting behind the wheel. He drove a Renault 4 in his days in Argentina — when he wasn’t taking the subway or the bus, anyway. So Francis must have felt comfortable in the driver’s seat earlier this month when an Italian priest gave him an ’84 model.
“I think the pope will drive it a bit himself inside the Vatican,” a spokesman told Reuters. No surprise there: He has shunned the bulletproof Popemobile and been driven around in a little Fiat and a Ford Focus.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza ride their mounts in a scene from Part I, Chapter 7 of Miguel de Cervantes' 'Don Quixote.' 'It was yet early in the morning, at which time the sunbeams did not prove so offensive'.
— Books. Francis enjoys reading so much that he might need to invest in a papal Kindle. In the Thursday interview alone, he name-checked El Cid, Don Quixote and Dostoevsky.
The Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni means so much to him that he can reel off the first lines of The Betrothed. Asked about the importance of creativity, Francis said: “For a Jesuit it is extremely important!”
Courtesy of Maria Elena Bergoglio via Reuters
Then Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio ladles soup in a kitchen.
— Simple food. Nothing out of Saveur for the successor to Saint Peter. Back home in Argentina, his palette was, as the daily newspaper La Nacion put it in 2009, “muy austero.”
Sensing a theme? Just the basics. Think fruit, salad, skinless chicken breast, a little wine. He once said that he enjoyed the Italian dish bagna cauda — bread and warm olive oil dip — but joked that he had to go to a nunnery to get it. Speaking of which …
Luca Zennaro / ANSA Pool via Reuters
Pope Francis laughs while speaking to journalists travelling on the papal flight to Rio de Janeiro, on July 22.
— A good one-liner. The comic stylings of Pope Francis, ladies and gentlemen: The pope jokingly said that he chose to live in a simple Vatican apartment, not the papal palace, for fear of getting robbed, according to one bishop’s account.
And in March, when he dined with the cardinals who had just elected him leader of the Catholic Church, the pope listened to a thoughtful toast and cracked: “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
The Pope is making headlines once again for his candid interview with "America Magazine," where he said the Church must not be obsessed with issues related to gay marriage or contraceptives. He called for new balance, warning that if the Catholic Church doesn't make changes, it could fall like a house of cards. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.
Reuters contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Thu Sep 19, 2013 7:17 PM EDT