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Michael O’BrienJune 13, 2024
Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" poses with his Emmys during the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awards show in Los Angeles in September 2013. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters) (Oct. 18, 2013) See SMITH-COLBERT Oct. 18, 2013.

Pope Francis once lamented that “it is so sad to see consecrated men and women who have no sense of humor.” To be in a relationship with Jesus, he said, is “to have the capacity that holiness gives us to have this sense of humor.”

It seems that the pope is looking to inject some humor into the life of the church by inviting more than 100 prominent comics from around the world to the Vatican for an audience with him on June 14. The extensive list of comedy actors, stand-up performers and late-night hosts includes American icons like Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock as well as a number of international talents, including Englishman Stephen Merchant.

The meeting is a continuation of the pope’s outreach to creative minds, encouraging their diverse works as a way to evangelize. The pope recently gave his stamp of approval to an Argentinian street artist whose graffitied depictions of Francis as a caped crusader, coined “Super Pope,” have appeared throughout the streets of Rome during his papacy.

The secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, Bishop Paul Tighe, was instrumental in assembling this meeting. In an interview with America, Bishop Tighe said that one of the primary desires for the gathering is to “further promote good relations between the church and the world of culture.”

In a similar audience held in May of 2023, the Vatican invited 70 prominent artists who identified as Catholic, including Martin Scorsese, for a conference on “The Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination.”

While that meeting may have been centered around a somewhat heady topic, Bishop Tighe explained that the pope specifically sought out comedians for this audience in an attempt to highlight the value of art forms not considered “high culture,” and in turn attempting to “puncture the pomposity of our world”—something that comedy is perfectly suited to do.

Bishop Tighe also expressed his gratitude for the “extraordinarily generous response to an invitation to travel quite a distance” on behalf of this global collective of comics and said the pope is looking forward to “recognizing and celebrating the importance of humor in the lives of people.”

America editor at large James Martin, S.J., serves on the Dicastery for Communication, the other branch of the Vatican that organized the event, and spoke on the pope’s decision to host such an audience. “Francis has always talked about joy, humor and laughter in his homilies and in his Angelus addresses,” Father Martin said, “and he’s a generally joyful and humorous person. He sees that as a value in Christian life.”

In his very first Angelus Francis cracked a joke to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. After noting that he was reading a book by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the pope told those gathered: “That book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all!”

Father Martin, the author of Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, said the audience will also give Catholics a chance to reflect on the fact that “Christian life is about joy, not suffering” and that “one of the things we tend to forget is that Jesus had a sense of humor.”

Another American personality in attendance will be Stephen Colbert, who appointed Father Martin as the chaplain of his popular late-night television program “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Mr. Colbert has frequently discussed his return to the Catholic Church and was even dubbed “America’s Catholic” because of his willingness to share his faith journey.

In 2018, Mr. Colbert stopped by America’s offices to speak to Father Martin about his faith, including his favorite Scripture passage, from Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?... Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”

He said the verses remind him “to be mindful, to be grateful and ultimately to be joyful, and everything else comes from that. It’s a lot like comedy—it’s sort of autonomic that you can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”

Mr. Colbert, who has referred to himself as “a total Francis fanboy,” will meet the pope for the first time after co-narrating the papal autobiography, Life: My Story Through History.

Another invitee with pre-existing ties to the pope is Whoopi Goldberg, the prolific actress and co-host of the popular morning television program “The View,” who met Francis in October 2023.

In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, who is also slated to appear at this upcoming comedic conclave, Ms. Goldberg revealed she discovered that Pope Francis “seems to be a bit of a fan” of her 1992 classic “Sister Act” and that she cheekily offered the pope a cameo in the upcoming “Sister Act 3.”

The pope once said that every morning he prays for a sense of humor, and the Holy Father will certainly be in the presence of some people who can help him brush up on his comedic chops.

To read the full list of comics to be in attendance, click here.

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