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Girlfriends, but no paycheck for popes, says Francis

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Pope Francis meets with priests during the weekly general audience on Wednesday at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican. AFP

Girlfriends, but no paycheck for popes, says Francis

He is rash, bad at football and sometimes frustrated at not having his own cash to spend: Francis may wear papal cassocks, but they hide a normal man beneath, he says in a new book.

“I’m hot-headed, impatient ... I sometimes make decisions in a hurry,” the pontiff says in a new book, From the Poor to the Pope, From the Pope to the World, based on queries from the world’s underprivileged.

From the slums of Brazil to the homeless in India, Iran and the US, people from 80 countries put 100 personal questions to the pontiff, whose answers have been gathered in book form that will be published on April 1.

“How much do you earn? Did you ever have a girlfriend? What are your flaws?” they ask in the project by French association Lazare, which runs homes where young professionals and formerly homeless live together.

The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics “played the game and was surprisingly transparent, even on very personal matters,” the association’s secretary general, Pierre Durieux, said.

That included the self-confessed “dreamer” – a fan of French poet Baudelaire – saying yes to the girlfriend question.

“Despite a crazy agenda, he took the time to listen to all the questions, right up to the last one,” Durieux said.

‘A bit absurd’

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who chose the name Francis as a symbol that his papacy would put the world’s poor front and centre, talks about his life, family, tastes, vocation as a priest – and intolerance for luxury.

“It hurts me that men of the church, priests, bishops, cardinals, drive in luxury cars and, far from giving an example of poverty, give the most negative of testimonies,” he said, as quoted in the book.

He rejects all things bling – though admits he could not buy himself flashy things even if he wanted to.

“I don’t get paid anything. Not a cent! They feed me, and if I need something, I ask for it,” he said.

“People always tell me ‘yes’, by the way. ‘We’re not going to fight with the pope’! If I need shoes, I ask.

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Pope Francis poses for selfie photos with members of the Italian Federation of Chefs (Federazione Italiana Cuochi, FIC) during the weekly general audience on Wednesday at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican. AFP

“My poverty is fictitious, since I lack nothing. But it is still a bit absurd to have to ask . . . It makes me less self-sufficient,” he admitted.

One thing he won’t be asking for: football shoes.

Though football is his favourite sport, the Argentinian has never been skilled at it.

“When I was young, I was always put in goal because I played badly. I was told I had two feet in the same shoe,” he quips.

‘Brilliant sense of humour’

Loic Luisetto, Lazare’s director, said Francis was a “simple man . . . with a brilliant sense of humour”.

“We gave him a little buzzer to use if he didn’t want to answer. He never used it.”

Over four meetings at the Vatican, Francis spoke virtually, in Spanish, to dozens of people in the project set up by Lazare and some 20 non-governmental organisations from five continents.

“What would you ask the pope if he were in front of you?” participants were asked.

Any nerves about getting personal with the world’s top Catholic disappeared after the organisers – who were put up in the Vatican residence hall where the pope lives – bumped into him going about his daily life.

They saw Francis “in the elevator or at breakfast with his tray,” Durieux said. “This closeness to him contributed to the family atmosphere of the interviews”.

At breakfast, presumably, the pope had already been up for hours.

The pontiff confessed to being “a real zombie” in the mornings – perhaps not that surprising considering he rises shortly after 4am.

There is a price to be paid for being up with the larks at the ripe age of 85, for Francis admitted “sometimes falling asleep during prayer”.

Once up, he dresses. Never, however, in the traditional white trousers his predecessor ex-pope Benedict XVI wore, for “I’m not an ice cream seller!”

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