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Keara HanlonJanuary 14, 2022
Pope Francis puts his hand to his ear after asking for a response from the crowd during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

If you’re anything like me, Pope Francis’ recent visit to a record shop in Rome probably has you wondering: What might the vicar of Christ’s Spotify playlist look like? What songs does he jam to in his white Fiat 500 with the windows down? What chart-toppers make the pope want to dance? Does he sing in the shower? (He is human after all.)

Here are my best guesses at Pope Francis’ favorite tunes—a mix-tape for the magisterium, if you will.

The best of Beethoven, Bach and more

Pope Francis is something of a classical music connoisseur. In a 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Pope Francis made clear that good music must do more than simply please the ear. A piece like Mozart’s “Et incarnatus est” from his Mass in C minor “is matchless,” Francis explained. “It lifts you to God.”

Clearly, the bar for meeting the pope’s musical expectations is quite high.

If you’re anything like me, Pope Francis’ recent visit to a record shop in Rome probably has you wondering: What might the vicar of Christ’s Spotify playlist look like? 

Besides Mozart, who the pope said “fulfills me,” Francis is also a fan of Beethoven— specifically of his composition, “Leonore Overture No. 3.” The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra’s program notes for the piece explain that the 14-minute-long overture tells the story of Fidelio, a character in Beethoven’s only opera. Although Beethoven ultimately cut the piece, finding that “Leonore Overture No. 3” was too intensely dramatic for the opening of the opera, many of Beethoven’s listeners still consider this version to be the best overture of the four that he composed for the show over the course of various productions. With an underlying theme of sacrifice and a struggle for justice, it seems likely that Pope Francis connects not only to the music but also to the message of the opera.

Other classical favorites of the pope’s include Bach’s aria “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” (“Have mercy Lord, my God, for the sake of my tears”) from the St. Matthew Passion as well as “Der Ring des Nibelungen” and “Parsifal,” both by Wagner.

A tango to remind him of home

“The tango is a melody that evokes nostalgia and hope,” Pope Francis has said.

Like Francis, the tango originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the slums of the city, the Spanish tango is said to have intermingled with the more suggestive “milonga” as well as elements of Cuban dance to create the style we know today.

Here are my best guesses at Pope Francis’ favorite tunes—a mix-tape for the magisterium, if you will.

The pope’s vast musical collection, which holds nearly 2,000 CDs and 19 vinyl records, contains the works of the famous tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Not unlike Pope Francis, Piazzolla was sometimes seen as a controversial figure, a man ahead of his time. He did not shy away from change and even invented the nuevo tango (new tango) by combining elements of jazz with the tango. We may not know which of Astor Piazzolla’s pieces are the pope’s favorites, but I would recommend “El Desbande,” Piazzolla’s first formal tango, as well as the title track from his most famous album, “Libertango.”

In addition to Piazzolla, I suspect that Pope Francis may also listen to the works of the great tango composer and singer Azucena Maizani. Their paths crossed early on in Francis’ path to the papacy, in 1970, just one month after he became a priest. That January, he received word that the tango star was gravely ill. Pope Francis attended to her and performed the anointing of the sick in her final days. I’d like to think that every now and then when the pope is feeling nostalgic for his young life in Argentina, he plays “La Canción de Buenos Aires” in Maizani’s memory.

Can’t Help Falling in Love (with Elvis’ gospel music)

If the pope has 1,728 CDs in his music library, and 25 of those are by Elvis Presley, that means an entire 1.5 percent of his collection is sung by the King of Rock and Roll. But it’s not “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog” or even “All Shook Up” that Francis puts on at the end of a long day of papal duties—it is Presley’s gospel music.

While it would seem that Pope Francis has quite the collection of the gospel records by Elvis Presley, he surely has a few special favorites. I’d guess that he likes to listen to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The lyrics of this song remind me of an old tweet of Pope Francis’ that reads, “In the roughest moments, remember: God is our Father; God does not abandon his children.”

If the pope has 1,728 CDs in his music library, and 25 of those are by Elvis Presley, that means an entire 1.5 percent of his collection is sung by the King of Rock and Roll.

I suspect that “How Great Thou Art” may also be a favorite. I mean, who doesn’t like this song? Not only is it ranked as one of the most popular hymns of all time, but Elvis Presley’s version even won a Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance in 1967. If Mozart “lifts” Pope Francis to God, “How Great Thou Art” is sure to at least make his soul sing.

Édith Piaf’s Greatest Hits

Édith Piaf is one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century, so it’s no surprise her work has made it into the pope’s personal collection. While it’s not necessary to speak or understand French in order to relate to the emotion conveyed in Piaf’s pieces—Piaf herself was once quoted as saying, “I want to make people cry even when they don't understand my words”—it probably helps that the pope is multilingual and can converse in Piaf’s native language.

The pope may be married to the church, but that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the sweet romance of “La Vie en Rose” just like the rest of us. (I don’t know any French, and this song still makes my heart swoon.) And while he may not be engaged in a romantic type of love, I’m sure that Pope Francis would agree that love from God, family or friends can help us see the world as a brighter place, or through “rose-colored glasses” like the song describes.

The pope may be married to the church, but that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the sweet romance of “La Vie en Rose” just like the rest of us.

Non, je ne regrette rien,” another one of Piaf’s most famous tunes, tells the story of a person letting go of their past in order to live a life of no regrets. Having just turned 85 in December, it seems possible that the pope may be reflecting on his own life these days. I hope he can do so without any regrets and with hope for the future, just as the song says.

Future additions to the pope’s collection?

Pope Francis’ personal music library is expansive, but our readers had some recommendations on new songs the pope may consider adding to his collection.

These suggestions included music from artists spanning ABBA, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin (“Stairway to Heaven” does seem on-theme), Bruce Springsteen, Britney Spears, Yo-Yo Ma, new indie artists and even music from the soundtrack to Disney’s “Encanto.”

In a universal church, it is no surprise that these recommendations span so many different genres and tastes. Music has the power to bring people together regardless of language, culture and even generational divides. The breadth of these recommendations represents the many unique individuals who make up the one body of the church under Pope Francis’ leadership.

[Readers can share their own song recommendations in the comments section below.]

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