14 things you don't know about the papacy

Pope Francis
Franklin Izuchukwu

Sure, the Pope is leading a global religion and promotes the Word of God, but in the past, popes were as corrupt and sinful as the people begging them for divine forgiveness.

If you want something a bit more realistic, National Geographic documentary "The Rebel Pope" delves into the background of current Pope Francis, who comes from a strict upbringing in Argentina.

The 44-minute documentary explores his rise through the Catholic ranks both in his home country and in Vatican City.

It comes complete with interviews from people who knew the 82-year-old Pope when he was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as well as historical documents from his youth. 

And while it is nice being the main man of religion, living in a country that's yours (the Vatican City is 0.44km2 in size, is in the centre of Rome and has a population of 1 000). 

It also respected by the most influential people in the world; being Pope is also one of the most fascinating and dangerous jobs on the planet.

You won't believe half of what you're about to read about the Pope.

1. There's no age limit

While most popes were elected at the age of 50 and above, the youngest was Pope John XII who was 18 when he was appointed in 955.

2. Statistically, it's one of the most deadly jobs on the planet

Forty-two of the 266 popes in history have been martyred and assassinated. 

Methods include crucifixion (Saint Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, 67AD); drowning with an anchor tied to their neck (Pope Clement 1, 99AD); forced to work to death in mines (Pope Pontian, 235AD); 

Poisoned and beaten to death (Pope John VIII, 882AD) and strangled (Popes Stephen VI in 897AD and Leo V in 903AD).

3. You need to be fluent in Italian and Latin

The Pope is also the Bishop Of Rome, so he's got to be fluent in Italian. That's the easy part because mass has to be officially conducted in Latin, a language that has not been spoken since the Roman Empire (27BC-1453AD).

4. Even the Pope has to go to confession

While it's not a requirement, the Pope is expected to attend the sacrament of confession every month. The late Pope John Paul II had weekly confessions until his death in April 2005.

5. Healthcare is extremely affordable in the Vatican

Popes pay $0.75 for any prescription, X-rays and other medical procedures thanks to The Vatican's Health Assistance Fund program.

Pope Francis celebrates Palm Sunday mass behind closed doors at the Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter's Basilica.

6. Pope Alexander VI was one of the most corrupt in history

Pope Alexander VI created cardinal positions within the church during his reign from 1492 to 1503 for wealthy “donors” who helped fill The Vatican’s coffers.

7. The Vatican may be wealthy, but the Pope has zero possessions

The Vatican has assets and over 33 000 bank accounts with a net value of over $33 billion, but the Pope doesn’t have any material possessions. And if he wants anything, he only has to ask for it, and The Vatican supplies it. He’s also head of The Vatican Bank.

8. A pope is Pope until his death

When the Pope dies, there’s no more pope. Until a new one is voted in. The Papal Conclave is made up of the College Of Cardinals, who are locked in the Sistine Chapel and they vote by ballot. A chimney outside the chapel will either show black smoke (no successful vote) or white (a new pope has been elected).

Portrait of Pope Alexander VI (AKA Borgia. One of the most controversial pope in catholic history)

9. Feeding the Pope is a tricky business

The Pope isn’t allowed to eat in public, and he has a team of chefs who travel with him to make sure that not only is his preferred food served, that it’s also not poisoned.

10. The shortest papal reign lasted 24 hours

Pope-elect Stephen suffered a fatal stroke a day after being elected head of the church in March 792, following the death of Pope Zachary, and was not officially installed to the title.

Borgias - Family of Pope Alexander VI

11. Popemobiles aren’t confined to the Vatican

There are 20 official popemobile cars around the world. They are kept under lock and key for visits by the Pope.

12. Exactly one person makes the Pope’s shoes

The official papal cobbler is Milan-based shoemaker Adriano Stefanelli, who handmakes the €400 (R6 500) shoes himself.

13. You don’t want to mess with the Swiss Guard

The Swiss Guard is the official ceremonial “army” of the Pope. However, they receive advanced training in small arms, close-quarter and unarmed combat following Pope John Paull II’s attempted assassination in 1981 when he was shot by Turkish hitman Mehmet Ali Agca (the Pope absolved and forgave him for the crime).

The Swiss Guard is also the world’s oldest continuous military unit, has been protecting the pop since 1471.

14. An ancient prophecy declares that there will only be one more Pope after Pope Francis

According to the Prophecy Of Popes, current Pope Francis will be the second-last leader of the church – after him, Peter; the Roman is prophesied to take the papal throne, leading to the destruction of Rome and the Catholic church.

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