Pope Francis arrived in Washington D.C. Tuesday, beginning his first U.S. visit, and brought along his personal anthem. Yes, the Pope has his own song — and no, it's not Beyonce. If the U.S. president has "Hail to the Chief," it only makes sense that the leader of the Catholic Church would also have his own theme song. President Obama greeted Pope Francis at the White House Wednesday before escorting him to a stage for a welcome ceremony. As he did so, a Marine band played the American national anthem, followed by the pontifical anthem and march. What is the the pontifical anthem, you ask?
Just like the American national anthem, the pontifical anthem and march, or papal anthem, is the official song of Vatican City. And because it belongs to such a small state, the anthem is basically the pope's personal melody. Charles Gounod, a French musician, composed "Pontifical Hymn" for the anniversary of Pope Pius IX's coronation, and it was first performed at a celebration in St. Peter's Square in 1869. The tune became Vatican City's official hymn in 1949, while Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church. The anthem is played by a civilian band during solemn occasions and any ceremony the pope or one of his representatives attends, so Americans will likely be hearing it many times throughout Pope Francis' trip.
In case you want to sing along, the papal anthem even has lyrics, which were written by a St. Peter's Basilica organist when Gounod's song was adopted by the Vatican. It begins with the words "O Rome immortal of martyrs and saints, O immortal Rome, accept our praises." It was originally only written in Italian, but has since been translated to Latin so that more Catholics around the world can participate in singing it, since Latin is more universally spoken within the Catholic Church.
This was not the first papal anthem, though — it simply replaced the previous song, "Marcia Trionfale," which was written by Viktorin Hallmayer in 1857. Hallmayer's song had been Vatican City's anthem since it became a city-state in 1929. "Marcia Trionfale" has a much more uplifting melody than "Pontifical Hymn," but Pius XII thought that the new song sounded more appropriate for the church.
If only everyone could have a personal theme song that was played whenever they attended events. But then, that would just result in never-ending music at the beginning of any ceremony. Not everyone is as special as Pope Francis. The papal anthem isn't the most exciting or dance-worthy tune, but it's still pretty cool that the pope has a personal song.