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Thursday, 6 April 2017



Jesus personally appointed Saint Peter as leader of the Christian community telling him "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." Roman Catholics believe that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is Peter's successor.

The Giving of the Keys to Saint Peter painted by Pietro Perugino (1492)

Christian tradition states that Peter was the first leader of an early apostolic community for at least 34 years (c. 30–64/67). At that time the word Pope or "Papa" was not used to name the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches also recognize the Bishop of Rome as the successor to Saint Peter and the Ecumenical Patriarch sends a delegation each year to Rome to participate in the celebration of his feast.


On October 14, 222 Pope Callixtus I was killed by a mob in Rome's Trastevere after a 5-year reign in which he had stabilized the Saturday fast three times per year, with no food, oil, or wine to be consumed on those days. Callixtus was succeeded by cardinal Urban I.

Pope Callixtus institutes the fasts

Pope Fabian was martyred on January 20, 250 during a widespread persecution of Christians for refusing to demonstrate loyalty to the Roman Empire.

The term "Pope", from a Greek word meaning 'father' was first used as a title by Marcellinus (d 304) when he was the Bishop of Rome.


In 440 Leo I (400-461) become The Bishop of Rome. He worked constantly towards gaining recognition for the Bishop of Rome as the Universal Bishop, claiming scriptural backing for this from the Primacy granted to Peter by Christ in Matthew 16 v 18. Leo argued that the Bishop of Rome alone had the responsibility and authority to care for the entire church.

In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon the delegates acclaimed Leo as "speaking with the voice of Peter". However they refused his request to be recognized as the sole Universal Bishop, giving the Bishop of Constantinople the same primacy though it was ranked second to the Bishop of Rome.

Leo persuaded Attila the Hun in 452 to turn back from Rome those successful negotiations and those with Gaiseric the Lame three years later increased the civil authority of the Bishop of Rome.

As it was  Leo I who claimed papal authority to be doctrine, many historians argue that he was the first true pope.

When Mercurius became Pope John II on January 2, 533, he was the first pope to adopt a new name upon elevation to the papacy. Mercurius did this because he considered his birth name - after the pagan god Mercury - inappropriate for the role of Holy Father.

Pope John II

Pope Saint Gregory I, also known as Saint Gregory the Great, was pope of the Catholic Church from September 3, 590 to his death in 604. Gregory is famous for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert a pagan people to Christianity.

Gregory is also known as the Great Visionary of Modern Educational System, for his writings and contribution to the school system of education instead of apprenticeships based learning.

Gregory the Great in a painting by Carlo Saraceni, c. 1610, Rome


The low point of the papacy was 867–1049 during which the popes came under the control of vying political factions.

John VIII, who died in 882, was the first pope in the medieval era to be assassinated – he was poisoned and then clubbed to death.

Pope John XII, known known as John the Bad, was Pope and ruler of the Papal States from December 16, 955 to his death in 964. He was a member of the powerful Roman family of Theophylact which dominated papal politics for over half a century.

John's pontificate became infamous for the depravity and worldliness with which he conducted his office. Among his offences were turning the Papal Palace into a brothel, invoking the aid of Jupiter and Venus whilst playing dice and ordaining a deacon in a stable at an improper season.

Pope John XII was eventually beaten to death on May 14, 964, by the husband of a woman he was having an affair with.

Pope John XII

The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I had John accused in an ecclesiastical court on several grounds. The court deposed him and elected a layman as Pope Leo VIII. However, John mutilated the Imperial representatives in Rome and had himself reinstated as pope.

Pope Benedict IX's immoral character aroused much indignation during his pontificate. In 1044 a Roman faction drove him from office as unfit to rule due to his dissolute lifestyle but a year later he reinstated himself. The pope proceeded to marry his cousin and sell the papacy to his godfather, Gregory VI.

In 1047 Benedict regained the papal throne again but finally in 1048 Benedict was driven out from Rome. After 16 years under Benedict the papacy has reached an all-time low in immorality and debauchery.


In 1049, Leo IX became pope; at last a pope with the character to face the papacy's problems. He traveled to the major cities of Europe to deal with the church's moral problems first hand, notably the selling of church offices and roles, clerical marriage and concubinage. With his long journey, Leo restored the prestige of the papacy in Northern Europe.

In 1054 Pope Leo IX sent a legation to Constantinople, which turned into a diplomatic disaster due to the cultural differences between the two camps. The leader of the pope's legation, Cardinal Humbert, lost patience and slammed down onto the Hagia Sophia's high altar a Bull of Excommunication against the Constantinople archbishop Michael Cerularius. The Archbishop responded in kind thus prompting the Great Schism, the formal breaking up of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

When Pope Innocent III died in 1216, the power of the Papacy had never been higher; his decisions were far reaching and his assertions of authority were generally accepted. On one occasion Innocent described the authority of the pope thus "The successor of Peter is the vicar of Christ; He has been established as a mediator between God and man, below God but beyond man; who shall judge all and be judged by no one."

After the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268 the cardinals spent 33 months unsuccessfully conferring in the Italian town of Viterbo over who should be the next Pope - the longest papal election ever. The divisions were caused by the French and Italian cardinals each wanting a pope from their own country. Finally the citizens of Viterbo decided to resort to tough measures to encourage them to come to a decision. They locked the Cardinals into the building where they were deliberating, removed the roof to expose them to the weather and allowed them only bread and water. Three days later the Cardinals chose Gregory X (1210-1276). Since then, the cardinals have always chosen the Pope under lock and key.

From 1309 to 1377, the Pope resided not in Rome but in Avignon, France. The Avignon Papacy was notorious for greed and corruption and was known as the "Babylonish Captivity." During this period, the pope was effectively an ally of the Kingdom of France, alienating France's enemies, such as the Kingdom of England.

The last time a pope was elected who was a priest but not a cardinal was Urban VI in 1378 - he was a monk and archbishop of Bari.

Pope Leo X, elected in 1513, was the last pope who wasn’t even a priest before being chosen. He had to be ordained as a priest and then also as a bishop before he could take on the role of pontiff.


Pope Paul III (1534–49) saw that the Protestant Reformation was getting bigger. At first, a small number of priests were part of the reformation, but  by the time he came to the papacy many princes, particularly in Germany, supported its ideas. In response, Pope Paul III  initiated the Council of Trent (1545–63), which established the triumph of the papacy over those who sought to reconcile with Protestants or oppose Papal claims.

Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) strongly disliked Protestant ideas and the Council of Trent was unable to meet during the four years he was in office.

During the March 1605 papal conclave, a fight broke out that was so noisy that people outside opened the doors early because they thought a new pope had been elected.

In 1621, it was suggested that the election of future popes should take place in the presence of the previous pope's corpse.

With the church leadership driven out of Rome during an armed conflict, Pius VII was crowned Pope in Venice in 1800 with a temporary papal tiara made of papier-mâché.

The First Vatican Council decreed the dogma of papal infallibility on July 18, 1870.

Pope Leo XIII reigned as Pope from February 20, 1878 to his death in 1903. Leo worked to reconcile the Catholic church and the modern world. He declared Thomas Aquinas' Scholastic system that science and religion can live together to be the official Catholic philosophy.

In Leo XIII's 1891 Rerum Novarum (Of New Things), the pope showed his support for the working class by arguing the case for trade unionism and other social reform. By this time Leo had become renowned as a social commentator highlighting the flaws of both capitalism and socialism.

Photograph of Leo XIII in his later years.

Pope Pius XII, who was pope during World War II, left a document informing the College of Cardinals that they should hold a conclave and elect a new pope if he were taken prisoner.

When Pope Paul VI arrived in New York in 1965, he became the first Pope to ever visit the United States of America and the Western hemisphere.

When Pope Paul VI arrived in Bogotá, Colombia in 1968, it was the first visit of a pope to Latin America.

Pope John Paul II travelled to Romania in 1999 becoming the first pope to visit a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the Great Schism in 1054.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected as Pope Francis in 2013, becoming the first Latin American pope of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis. By Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation).


Pope John XII (John the Bad) was just 18 when he was elected in 955. He was the youngest ever pope.

Before 1274, there were times when a pope was elected the same day as the death of his predecessor. After that, however, the church decided to wait at least 10 days before the first vote. The quickest conclave observing the 10-day wait rule was the 1503 election of Julius II, who was elected in just a few hours.

Urban VII was chosen to succeed Sixtus V as pope on September 15, 1590. His death from malaria 13 days later made his the shortest papal reign in history.

Pope Urban VII, the shortest-reigning pope

The oldest pope when elected was Clement X, who was a whopping 79 years old in 1670.

Pope Pius IX became the 256th Pope in 1846 beginning the longest reign of all popes. Only Saint Peter himself led the church longer than the 32-year reign of Pius IX.

Pope Pius IX, the longest-reigning modern pope

Pope Leo XIII reigned as Pope from 1878 to his death in 1903, when he was 93-years-old. He was the oldest ever pope.

An estimated 6 to 7 million attended the Concluding Eucharistic Celebration in Manila on January 18, 2015, ending the 5-day apostolic and state visit of Pope Francis in the Philippines, making it as the largest papal crowd in history.


The most popular Pope name has been John, used by 21 men. Francis is one of 44 popes to have a unique name.

33 popes have died in violent circumstances.

The word nepotism comes from the practice of popes appointing their nephews as cardinals, a way to secure their power over the college of cardinals.

Anyone who makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope is considered to be the Antipope. The last time this happened was in 1439.

An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I Saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I Saw the Potato" (la papa).

Sources: Associated Press, The Daily Telegraph,

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