Why Pope Francis invited Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and Whoopi Goldberg to the Vatican

Pope Francis has held a “conclave of the comedians” with 100 of the world’s top comics at the Vatican.

Star names such as Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock were among the invited guests. More than 200 people were in the audience at the Apostolic Palace, with comedians coming from 15 countries.

Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon were among those to meet Pope Francis (Getty)
Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon were among those to meet Pope Francis (Getty)

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” Pope Francis told the gathering. “You unite people, because laughter is contagious,” the pontiff said.

Pope Francis has previously spoken about the importance of comedy, saying he prays daily asking God to grant him a sense of humour, and he mentioned the fact that he had done so for 40 years to the gathered audience.

The event, jointly organised by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education and Dicastery for Communication, was intended to “establish a link” between the Catholic Church and artists.

Whoopi Goldberg leaves after an audience with the Pope (AP)
Whoopi Goldberg leaves after an audience with the Pope (AP)

“While communication today often generates conflict, you know how to bring together diverse and sometimes contrary realities. How much we need to learn from you!” Pope Francis said. He added that it was OK to “laugh at God” in the same way “we play and joke with the people we love”.

At the end of his address, he asked the audience to “pray for him, not against” – and drew a laugh from the crowd.

Stephen Merchant, writer and director of The Office, was the only British comedian to attend the audience. Father Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon made up the Irish contingent, with the largest group – two-thirds of the participants – coming from Italy.

Pope Francis has previously spoken of how comics have “the ability to dream up new versions of the world”, and often do so “with irony, which is a wonderful virtue”.

Catholic comedian Stephen Colbert joked about the invitation on his late-night chat show ahead of the event.

Pope Francis shakes hand with Jimmy Fallon (Getty)
Pope Francis shakes hand with Jimmy Fallon (Getty)

“Pope Francis is going to meet me at the Vatican!” he told his audience. “Am I excited? Is the pope Catholic?”

Colbert lovingly warned fellow attendee Chris Rock, by joking about the infamous Will Smith slap during the Oscars.

“Chris, please for safety’s sake I would just keep Mary Magdalene’s name out of your mouth. Because the Pope wears a big ring!”

Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was asked about being invited to meet the Pope, and replied: “I have no idea what to expect. “If you know, tell me... The Pope wants to meet? I’m like, sure!”

Whoopi Goldberg met the Pope during an audience at the Vatican last year, even offering Francis a cameo in Sister Act 3.

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