The minute he stepped onto the balcony facing St. Peter’s Square as the newly elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis became an instant celebrity.
Indeed, what’s not to like about him? Lolo Kiko is admired by the world over for his grounded lifestyle, self-effacing attitude, and teachings on compassion, mercy, and inclusiveness. (Read: 4 Pinoy Celebrities Who Share the Same Birthday as Pope Francis)
A celebrity that he is, Pope Francis looks just as thrilled when he gets up close and personal with famous people from the worlds of politics, sports, and show business. Here are some of his most memorable meetings with the stars!
Pope’s Celebrity Encounters: Andrea Bocelli
“I heard a voice. But who was singing?” asked Pope Francis excitedly after a 2017 General Audience in the Vatican. The voice belonged to none other than Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian tenor behind “The Prayer,” the moving duet with Celine Dion. The singer was with Voices of Haiti, a choir of Haitian children from impoverished families supported by his foundation.
“You have something inside with the power to move others,” gushed Andrea to Lolo Kiko. “I don’t know if you know it.” “Thank you. I am normal,” said the Pope in characteristic humility.
Pope’s Celebrity Encounters: Barack Obama
They first met in 2014 when the 44th president of the United States was in the middle of a European tour, and then in 2015 during the Holy Pontiff’s five-day state visit to the US. On both occasions, then-US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis were all smiles— a sign of their mutual admiration and respect for each other.
The two world leaders, after all, are on the same page when it comes to issues like climate change, immigration, and uplifting the lives of the poor. (Read: A Look Into the Pope’s Relationship With World Leaders)
Pope’s Celebrity Encounters: The Harlem Globetrotters
In May 2015, the American basketball team, known for combining on-count antics with incredible athleticism to their game, paid Pope Francis a visit at a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square. In addition to presenting him with his own jersey, thereby making him an honorary member of the team, the Globetrotters taught him how to spin a ball on the tip of his finger—a move that clearly delighted Lolo Kiko.
Pope’s Celebrity Encounters: Football Superstars
A football player in his youth, Pope Francis was assigned goalkeeper duties because he claimed to have a “stiff leg.” Still, that hasn’t stopped him from appreciating the game as a spectator, and meeting some of the heroes of the sport. (Read: Netflix to Launch Docuseries Based on Pope Francis’s Book)
The Pope has met former Barcelona and AC Milan star Ronaldinho, Argentine football player Lionel Messi, football legend Diego Maradona, and the national teams of Italy and Argentina, who faced each other in a friendly match in 2013. With each meeting, the Pope reminded players about their social responsibility as ambassadors of the sport on and off the field.
Pope’s Celebrity Encounters: George Clooney, Salma Hayek, Richard Gere
Pope Francis was still known as Jorge Bergoglio when he founded Scholas Occurrentes, an educational organization tasked to create a Culture of Encounter for young, disadvantaged youth. More than 20 years later, the organization has a presence in 190 countries and reaches more than a million children and young people. (Read: We Decoded the Pope’s Facial Expressions—Here’s What We Got!)
It also has strong celebrity support. George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Richard Gere are ambassadors of Scholas Occurrentes. In 2016, the Hollywood stars were honored by the Holy Pontiff for their work on the foundation’s art programs. “I think Pope Francis is the best pope that ever existed,” said Salma