Pope Francis stroked a tiger during a papal audience with 7,000 circus and street performers in the Vatican City on Thursday to mark the Jubilee for Circus and Travelling Show People.
Calling the performers “artisans of celebration, of marvels and of beauty”, Francis said: “Your power is also shown by your ability to scare a pope by getting him to stroke a tiger.
“You can’t imagine the good you bring. And thanks for this. Thanks!”
Francis praised the performers for letting people on the margins of society attend their shows during the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“You have opened your shows to the neediest, to the poor and the homeless, to prisoners to disadvantaged youngsters,” he said.
The pontiff also lauded circuses and performing artists who entertained migrants and had travelled to war zones and areas hit by natural disasters and conflict.
“Your performances enrich the whole world, bring hope and faith and raise spirits,” Francis said.