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Mozart and French cars: What we know about the pope's likes—and why it matters

Pope Francis I
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Pope Francis I

Pope Francis plunged headlong on Thursday into some of the most divisive issues in Catholicism—speaking expansively about how the church must lighten its emphasis on fighting abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

But buried deep in a 12,000-word interview with a Jesuit journal was a more personal nugget: The man loves Mozart. He finds Wagner impressive and Bach sublime, but the Holy Father will take Mozart any day.

"The 'Et incarnates est' from his Mass in C minor is matchless. It lifts you to God!" Francis gushed. "Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music. I have to listen to it."

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Maybe it's his humble bearing, or maybe it's just that he's the first pope installed in the age of the Facebook "like" button. But say this for Francis: We know quite a bit about his personal taste.

We've had glimpses into the predilections of previous popes. The last man to hold the job, Benedict XVI, was known to love Christmas cookies and orange soda, and was himself a fan of Mozart.

But Benedict was temperamentally private, an academic, whereas Francis has shown himself to be "intensely pastoral"—more likely to connect one-on-one, said Matthew Bunson, senior correspondent for the Catholic publishing nonprofit Our Sunday Visitor and author of a biography of Francis.

The curiosities make for interesting reading, but they also have a real effect on the church, he said. Francis' open-book personality sets an example for priests to connect with the faithful, and it shows the flock that he is engaged with the world, Bunson said.

"I don't recall reading an interview with a pope with so many different references to culture," he said. "Here's somebody who is not isolated from the rest of the world, from wider culture. That itself has great repercussions."

(Read more: Pope to review Vatican's scandal-plagued bank)

Here, a sampling of the pontifical preferences.

Selfies. Benedict XVI started the official Vatican Twitter account, @pontifex, and Francis makes use of it almost daily. (Why not? He already has more than a billion followers.)

But the new pope is just as much an Instagram guy. In August, a group of 500 young people was visiting the Vatican from a diocese in Italy. He called them "bearers of hope," and then mugged for the camera. Behold, the papal selfie.

Cold calls. It's the pope calling. No, seriously, it's the pope. Francis has made a habit of placing personal phone calls to parishioners who have written him letters, including a rape victim in Argentina and a distraught mother-to-be in Italy.

The pope has picked up the phone often enough that the Vatican had to stamp out a rumor that he rang up Syrian leader Bashar Assad—and has suggested some people might even be doing their best Francis in prank calls.

Italian film. In the interview Thursday, Francis rhapsodized about the fine arts. He loves Puccini's Turandot, the paintings of Chagall and Caravaggio, the poetry of the German Romantic Friedrich Hölderlin. Then he insisted on talking about cinema.

He reminisced about the days when his parents would take him to the movies. And he had high praise for Fellini's "La Strada," the 1954 story of a girl bought by a globetrotting entertainer—partly, he said, because it makes an implicit reference to St. Francis.

Getting behind the wheel. He drove a Renault 4 in his days in Argentina—when he wasn't taking the subway or the bus, anyway. So Francis must have felt comfortable in the driver's seat earlier this month when an Italian priest gave him an '84 model.

"I think the pope will drive it a bit himself inside the Vatican," a spokesman told Reuters. No surprise there: He has shunned the bulletproof Popemobile and been driven around in a little Fiat and a Ford Focus.

Books. Francis enjoys reading so much that he might need to invest in a papal Kindle. In the Thursday interview alone, he name-checked "El Cid," "Don Quixote," and "Dostoevsky."

The Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni means so much to him that he can reel off the first lines of "The Betrothed." Asked about the importance of creativity, Francis said: "For a Jesuit it is extremely important!"

(Read more: Cardinals begin voting for new pope)

Simple food. Nothing out of Saveur for the successor to Saint Peter. Back home in Argentina, his palette was, as the daily newspaper La Nacion put it in 2009, "muy austero."

Sensing a theme? Just the basics. Think fruit, salad, skinless chicken breast, a little wine. He once said that he enjoyed the Italian dish bagna cauda—bread and warm olive oil dip—but joked that he had to go to a nunnery to get it. Speaking of which …

A good one-liner. The comic stylings of Pope Francis, ladies and gentlemen: The pope jokingly said that he chose to live in a simple Vatican apartment, not the papal palace, for fear of getting robbed, according to one bishop's account.

And in March, when he dined with the cardinals who had just elected him leader of the Catholic Church, the pope listened to a thoughtful toast and cracked: "May God forgive you for what you have done."

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