July 19, 2024

Before flying to Italy‘s southern Puglia region to meet world leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Pope Francis hosted a very different audience at the Vatican on Friday celebrating the importance of humor.

The pontiff welcomed more than 100 comedians from 15 nations, including U.S. celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien.

“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,” Francis told the comedians.

“You unite people, because laughter is contagious,” he continued, asking jokingly, “Please pray for me: for, not against!”

Francis pointed out that in the creation, “Divine wisdom practiced your art for the benefit of none other than God himself, the first spectator in history,” with God delighting in the works that he had made.

“Remember this,” he added. “When you manage to bring intelligent smiles to the lips of even a single spectator, you also make God smile.”

Whoopi Goldberg, centre, leaves after an audience with Pope Francis in Clementine Hall
Whoopi Goldberg, centre, leaves after an audience with Pope Francis in Clementine Hall (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Francis also said it was OK to “laugh at God” in the same way “we play and joke with the people we love.”

After delivering his speech, Francis greeted all the comedians individually, sharing laughs and jokes with some of them.

“It was great, it was very fast and really loving, and made me happy,” Goldberg said afterward.

O’Brien noted that the pope “spoke in Italian, so I’m not quite sure what was said.”

“To be in that room and to be with all my fellow comedians, some of whom I’ve been good friends with for many years, in that environment, was quite strange,” the TV host added. “All of us were thinking, how did this happen? Why are we here, and when are they going to throw us out?”

Chris Rock, left, and Conan O’Brien arrive for an audience with Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall at The Vatican
Chris Rock, left, and Conan O’Brien arrive for an audience with Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall at The Vatican (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Colbert admitted his Italian “is really bad, I would like to speak it better.” But he managed to remind the pope that he had done the audiobook for his memoir.

“It was wonderful, he’ll never forget me,” he joked.

Later on Friday Pope Francis became the first pontiff to address a Group of Seven summit, warning world leaders that Artificial Intelligence must never be allowed to get the upper hand over humanity.

An array of global chiefs warmly embraced the 87-year-old pope as he made his way around their huge oval table, pushed in a wheelchair as age and infirmity limit his mobility.

Pope Francis greets US President Joe Biden Biden
Pope Francis greets US President Joe Biden Biden (AFP via Getty Images)

The pope said AI represented an “epochal transformation” for mankind, but stressed the need for close oversight of the ever-developing technology to preserve human life and dignity.

“No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being,” he said, adding that people should not let superpowerful algorithms decide their destiny.

“We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people’s ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines,” he warned.