Fact Check

Is This Real Footage of Pope Francis with Circus Performers?

Stranger things have happened.

Published Oct 5, 2023

 (Screenshot via Twitter)
Image Via Screenshot via Twitter
Authentic footage shows circus performers and Pope Francis onstage together and the pope engaging in one of the performances by throwing a ring over a juggler’s head.

On Oct. 4, 2023, a number of posts on X showed video footage of Pope Francis alongside circus performers, and even participating in the show by throwing a ring over a juggler's head. Some posts claimed that this was evidence the Vatican is run by "Satanists" and "this is a Satanic Pope." Other posts wanted to know what exactly was going on. 

The above video is indeed authentic and shows circus performers alongside the Pope. 

It is taken from a Jan. 8, 2020, general audience event, in which the public is permitted to join papal ceremonies held by Pope Francis, usually on Wednesdays if he is in Vatican City. The clip in question was taken from Rome Reports, which specializes in news coverage on the Pope, the Vatican, and Rome. 

The full version of this can be found on Vatican News' official YouTube page that live streamed the entire general audience session. Vatican News is the official news portal of the Holy See, run by the Dicastery for Communication. 

The circus performers join the pope around the 46-minute mark in the video below:

However, this is not an unusual occurrence. The circus has joined papal audiences and performed many times in prior years especially during Advent or Christmas. According to The Pillar, a news organization covering the Catholic Church, circus performers have been a fixture at the Vatican's general assemblies for many years. 

Their participation in such assemblies stem from a 1970 effort by Pope St. Paul VI, who established the Pontifical Commission on the Spiritual Care of Migrants and Itinerants. The commission was charged with supporting refugees, exiles, nomads, and others, and also specifically mandated engaging with circus performers. Many circuses in Europe were founded by the nomadic Romani people who also faced centuries of persecution and discrimination. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the Catholic Church's history of engagement with circus communities thus:

The Concern of the Church for People on the Move

The Catholic Church, in its mission of preaching the Good News, historically holds a prophetic stand with regard to people who have special spiritual and social needs because of ethnic identity, language and culture, or a particular lifestyle distinguished by human mobility such as that of circus and traveling show people.

In his audience of December 3, 1981, Pope John Paul II defined the work of show people as a "healthy, relaxing and intelligent diversion". The Church responds to show people with benevolent understanding and welcome. The Circus and Traveling Show Apostolate refers to the ministry of the Church in the world of show people who create festive occasions for all Americans to enjoy.

Even in 1980, Pope John Paul II invited circus performers to Wednesday papal audiences:

In February 2023, the Vatican invited 2,000 of Rome's poor and marginalized populations to a circus performance, including prisoners and refugees. Pope Francis' almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski said in an announcement about the effort: "Making it possible to participate in this performance is a way to give a few hours of contentment to those who are confronted with a hard life and need help to nurture hope. [...] The show also reminds us that, behind this art and beauty, there are hours and hours of training, sacrifices, in order to reach the finish line. The circus performers are confirmation that perseverance can make the impossible possible." 

The video shared across social media is not only authentic, but it continues a longstanding tradition of circus performers participating in papal audiences as part of a church mandate to support historically disenfranchised people in society. As such we rate this claim as True. 


"Circus and Traveling Shows Ministry.' USCCB. https://www.usccb.org/committees/pastoral-care-migrants-refugees-travelers/circus-and-traveling-shows-ministry. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"FAQ - Information on the Vatican." Vatican News. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/faq.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"January 5 2022 General Audience Pope Francis." Vatican News, Jan. 5, 2022. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6f-S6SaoAus. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"People on the Move Magazine." Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.  https://www.humandevelopment.va/en/risorse/archivio/mobilita-umana/rivista-people-on-the-move.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"Pope Francis - General Audience 2020-01-08." Vatican News, Jan. 8, 2020. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBaPvwC5vAc. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"Pope Participates in Circus Act during General Audience." Rome Reports, Jan. 8, 2020. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiJGPRHkjgI. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"Prefecture of the Papal Household." Vatican. https://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_en.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"SYND 4/2/80 POPE ENTERTAINED BY CIRCUS PEOPLE." Associated Press, Jul. 24, 2015. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otw0GIj-7jo. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

"The Pope and the Circus." The Pillar, 10 Jan. 2022, https://www.pillarcatholic.com/p/the-pope-and-the-circus.

"Vatican Invites Rome Poor to a Day at the Circus." Catholic News Agency, Feb. 11, 2023. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/253618/vatican-invites-rome-poor-to-a-day-at-the-circus. Accessed 5 Oct. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.