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10 things you didn’t know about Pope Francis

Pope Francis blesses a child as he arrives for the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.
Pope Francis blesses a child as he arrives for the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. AP

Pope Francis arrives in Washington Tuesday to start his first visit to the United States. Here are 10 things you may not know about the religious leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

He is fluent in four languages, but English isn’t one of them.

The Argentine pope is fluent in his native Spanish, Italian, German and Latin, the official language of the Vatican. He also has addressed crowds in clear but heavily accented English, French, Portuguese and Ukrainian. In a nod to the growing importance of the U.S. Hispanic population, the pope will celebrate at least one Mass in Spanish during his visit, at the canonization ceremony of California missionary Junípero Serra. He will read his address to Congress in English.

He has a rather unusual resume for a supreme pontiff.

Back when he was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope moonlighted as a Buenos Aires bar bouncer and a janitor sweeping floors before joining the Jesuit Order in 1958. As a teenager, Bergoglio got his secondary school diploma as a chemical technician and worked at a food laboratory running tests on nutrients.

He’s a big fan of tango, soccer and “Lord of the Rings.”

Pope Francis has an “intense fondness” for tango dancing and the traditional music of Argentina and Uruguay known as milonga. In 2014, over 3,000 dancers from all over Italy celebrated his birthday by dancing tango in Saint Peter’s Square. A lifelong fan of the Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo, he is number 88,235 on the club’s member list. In 2013 he celebrated the team’s victory by hoisting the trophy over Saint Peter’s Square for the crowd to see. The pope is also a “Lord of the Rings” aficionado. In a 2008 sermon he used the Tolkien characters Frodo and Bilbo as inspiring examples of hope conquering doubt.

Pope Francis has never been to the United States.

Up to now, he has made a point of prioritizing the margins of society over developed countries in the Western world.

For his first official papal trip outside Rome he went to a Sicilian island to meet migrants who had survived the dangerous ocean crossing from Africa. In his two years as pope he has traveled to Israel, Jordan, the Palestine territories, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka in addition to several South American countries.

The designated ‘popemobile’ for the U.S. visit is a Jeep Wrangler.

The Holy Father will be shuttled around the streets of Washington, New York and Philadelphia in a Jeep Wrangler that is already in the hands of the Secret Service, according to the Vatican.

A similar car with open sides and a glass-front roof was used for the pope’s visit to Ecuador in July. This layout will give the surrounding crowds a clear view of the pontiff, unlike the closed and bulletproof “popemobiles” of his predecessors.

The pope’s aircraft is nicknamed ‘Shepherd One.’

Typically the pope flies in an ordinary chartered jet operated by Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia. Although the pope owns no special airplane, Americans nicknamed the chartered papal flight “Shepherd One” when Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in 2008.

According to traditional protocol, when a pope travels abroad he flies out on the Alitalia chartered jet and returns to Rome on a flag carrier of the visited nation, although this depends on where he goes.

The 266th pope likes being out on the streets.

Pope Francis is famously unpretentious. A few examples: He was spotted popping out of the Vatican in his Ford Focus to buy new glasses at an optician’s shop in Rome. During his recent visit to Bolivia, he stopped at a Burger King to change his clothing before saying Mass. He’s the first pope to wander down into the cafeteria to eat lunch with Vatican employees. He’s also the first pope to carry his own luggage onto the plane.

Pope Francis has prioritized climate change and environmental issues.

He criticized those who deny the human connection to climate change in a strongly worded 184-page encyclical, “Laudato Si,” issued in June. He wrote that the modern “use and throwaway” culture and the “disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary” is to blame for global warming.

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years,” he wrote. The encyclical was sharply criticized by many as inappropriate meddling by a religious institution in a political issue. He is expected to address climate change during his U.S. visit.

The pope (no longer) wears Prada.

While predecessor Benedict XVI was known for wearing the customary bright red shoes rumored to be designed by Italian fashion house Prada, Francis prefers to stick to the same simple black leather shoes from his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He also prefers humbler papal garments, doing away with the velvet capes, fur trim, elaborate crucifixes and gold rings of the office.

He is the first pope from the developing world.

The Buenos Aires native of Italian ancestry is the first pontiff to come from the developing world, the first pope from the Americas, and the first non-European pope since Syrian Gregory III in 741. He is also the first Jesuit pope.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6011, @verambergen

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