by Carl Bunderson
Papal Inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis on March 19, 2013. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/CNA.
Our new Pope, Francis, was born on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires as Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is 76 years old, and while an Argentinian by birth, his surname betrays his Italian roots. His father was a railway worker who immigrated to Argentina from Italy, and Bergoglio is one of five children.
After earning a secondary school degree as a chemical technician, Bergoglio felt a call to the priesthood.
He joined the Society of Jesus, entering the novitiate in 1958. He received a philosophy degree in 1963 and spent the next three years teaching literature and psychology.
Bergoglio then studied theology from 1967 to 1970, during which time he was ordained a priest. His priestly ordination was on Dec. 13, 1969.
Father Bergoglio did the final state of Jesuit formation from 1970 to 1971, and was novice master at the Jesuit seminary in San Miguel, a Buenos Aires suburb, from 1972 to 1973, where he taught theology.
In 1973, he made his perpetual vows in the Society, and that year was elected provincial for Argentina. After his time as provincial, from 1980 to 1986, he served as rector of the seminary at San Miguel, where he had studied, and was pastor of a parish in the city.
He went to Germany in 1986 to finish his doctoral thesis, after which he served as a professor, confessor and spiritual director.
In 1992, he was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, and given the titular see of Auca. He became Buenos Aires’ coadjutor bishop in 1997, and succeeded as the see’s archbishop the following year. His role as Archbishop of Buenos Aires made him also the Bishop of the ordinariate for Eastern rite Catholics in Argentina. (Except those of the Armenian Catholic Church in Argentina, who have their own bishop.)
Bergoglio was elevated to cardinal in 2001 and was appointed cardinal-priest of San Roberto Bellarmino, a Roman parish associated with the Jesuit order.
He served as an official of the 10th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2001 and was for a time the president of the Argentine bishops’ conference.
While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was a member of the Congregations for Divine Worship; for the Clergy; and for Institutes of Consecrated Life, as well as the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
He was elected Pope on March 13, 2013, on the fifth ballot of the conclave, during its second day, taking the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi.
Pope Francis is noted for his humble demeanor – as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived in an apartment, cooked his own meals and took public transit. In Rome, according to Father Zuhlsdorf, he carried himself not as a cardinal, but as a typical visiting priest.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis supported a liberal administration of baptism, recognizing the necessity of the sacrament and the secularizing forces pushing in on his country.
He told the Italian magazine “30 Days” in 2009 that illegitimate children should be baptized, even if their parents are not regular churchgoers.
“The child has no responsibility for the condition of his parents’ marriage. The baptism of children can, on the contrary, become a new beginning for the parents.”
He urged that evangelization must be done “by going to meet the people, not by waiting for the people to come to us…the sacraments are for the life of men and women as they are.”
Argentina was long ruled by right-wing military figures, and during the 1970s the government actively “disappeared” thousands of left-wing activists and militants. While head of the Argentine province of Jesuits, Bergoglio “opposed the tendency” of his brothers in religion to embrace Marxism, according to Sandro Magister’s article in “Chiesa.”
He is close to Communion and Liberation, an ecclesial lay movement founded in 1956 by Monsignor Luigi Giussani, whose writings Bergoglio wrote “have inspired me to reflect and have helped me to pray.”
“I am convinced that his (Msgr. Giussani’s) thought is profoundly human and reaches man’s innermost longings,” Bergoglio said in 2001.
When in 2010 Argentina was considering the legalization of same-sex marriage – which ended up passing – Bergoglio was opposed to it, as he was opposed to related proposals to allow adoption by gay couples.
In the weeks before the government voted on “gay marriage,” he wrote to the Carmelites in his archdiocese asking them to pray for the vote, saying legalization would “gravely harm the family” and that “the identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy.”
He is friendly to the poor and concerned for their well-being, and is perceived as recognizing the legitimate concerns of liberation theology, while keeping those concerns within the Church’s heart.
“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most, yet reduced misery the least,” Bergoglio said during a 2007 assembly of Latin American bishops. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
He lived in tension with the Argentine government, at times chastising it for failing to do more for the impoverished.
He has shown compassion on the downcast, each year during Holy Week as archbishop washing the feet different social outsiders, including AIDS patients and the incarcerated, according to Bloomberg News.
In 2005, an Argentine monsignor told the BBC that Bergoglio was “as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church – everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”
While it has been asserted that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he was hostile to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, access to which was liberalized by Benedict XVI, the circumstances allow a charitable interpretation.
The extraordinary form Mass has been available to the people of Buenos Aires, though not within the archdiocese itself, which is only 78 square miles and covers the city itself and none of its suburbs. The traditional Mass is available in Lomas de Zamora, a suburb which borders Buenos Aires, as well as in La Plata, 36 miles away, and Mercedes, 65 miles away.
“La Nacion,” a prominent Argentine publication, said that Bergoglio enjoys soccer and tango, and the books of Dostoyevsky and Jorge Luis Borges.