“How nice to be able to be here with you! How nice! […] I wanted to knock on every door, say ‘good morning’, ask for a glass of fresh water, have a cup of coffee—not a glass of cachaça!”
It is not from today that Pope Francis likes to play with the most beloved Brazilians goró. The Argentinean’s mockery with his neighbors had already taken place since his first year of pontificate. The opening of this text was made in his speech in Varginha, a favela in Rio de Janeiro where he arrived by popemobile, on July 25, 2013.
Nearly eight years later, the top Catholic leadership continued to joke with the national passion for pinga. “You have no salvation. Too much cachaça and no prayer.” A smile on his face was what he told a priest from the Diocese of Campina Grande, Paraíba, after the general audience at the Vatican this Wednesday (26).
The pope is even familiar with one of the most traditional Carnival marchinhas in the country, precisely the one starring the brandy. Who remembers is Rubens da Cruz Carneiro Neto, 33, seminarian of the Diocese of Registro (SP). “I was in São Pedro square to participate in the general audience. He came to meet me, and I said ‘Papa, a blessing for a Brazilian.’ He replied, ‘Oh yes, a Brazilian!’ and hummed: ‘You think cachaça is water…'”
It was 2017, and they both laughed, says Rubens. Then Francisco took his hand “and made a ‘joinha’ with the other”. He then asked the pontiff to pray for his vocation and won a blessing.
A leaf heard two other similar reports: the pope identifies the interlocutor as a neighbor of his native country and sings the carnival catchphrase. In one case, he also appealed to the historic rivalry between Argentina and Brazil and asked who was better at football, whether Pelé or Maradona.
The pope’s favorite alcoholic drink is much milder than Brazilian caninha. In the biography “A Vida de Francisco”, Evangelina Himitian tells that, when he was bishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio harmonized meals in the Buenos Aires Curia with half a glass of wine. When he was in Brazil for World Youth Day, in 2013, Salton announced the donation of 992 bottles of wine to serve the papal entourage.
In 2016, the pontiff greeted couples with half a century of marriage behind their backs and said that the feat deserved a worthy toast. “You can’t end a wedding party by drinking tea. It would be a shame. Wine is necessary for a party,” he said in front of thousands of faithful in the Vatican square.
Nothing in Catholicism prevents the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as long as it is moderate. Psalm 104:15, for example, quotes “the wine that rejoices.” The most famous biblical passage on the subject, narrated in the Gospel of John, tells how Jesus turned water into wine after Mary, his mother, warned that the drink had run out at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. The feat is said to be Christ’s first miracle.
In 2019, the pope recommended another type of alcohol to a Spanish journalist-priest who, during a flight from Italy to Thailand, talked about an attack on his sciatic nerve that nearly made him miss that trip.
“The Argentine pontiff has been suffering from the same condition for a long time, which produces pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve and travels down one or both legs through the lower back,” narrated reporter Inés San Martín in a report for the Crux, news portal about the Catholic Church. “Francisco offered a remedy of few words to the priest: ‘A glass of brandy’.”
On Monday (24), two days before joking that Brazilians were more interested in booze than in prayer, it was another drink that caught Francisco’s attention. He passed by the Vatican Radio’s Office and there he found an employee from Rio Grande do Sul with a gourd of chimarrão in his hand. He asked to drink the mate, but was surprised that the herb was not Argentinean. Better stick with the wine.