|Family picture. Top row, from left to right, his brother Alberto Horacio, Jorge Mario, his brother Oscar Adrian and his sister Marta Regina. Bottom row, from left to right, his sister Maria Elena, his mother Regina Maria Sivori and his father Mario Jose Bergoglio.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born on December 17, 1936 in Flores, a district of Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. He was baptized eight days later on Christmas Day, December 25. His father, Mario Jose Bergoglio, born in Italy’s Piedmont region, was a railway worker. His mother, Regina Maria Sivori, was born in Buenos Aires to a family of northern Italian origin. They got married on December 12, 1935 in Buenos Aires, and had five children: three boys (Alberto, Oscar andt Jorge Mario) and two girls (Marta Regina and Maria Elena). María Elena is the pope’s only living sibling.
It was in San Jose’s Church in the district of Flores, where he made his First Communion, that Jorge Mario, at the age of 17, during a confession on the feast day of St. Matthew, on Sept. 21, 1953, experienced the mercy of God in a special way, Once ordained a priest, he will come every year in this church to celebrate a Mass on Easter Sunday. (It is this experience of the mercy of God that will determine his motto as a Bishop, see page 9.)
After secondary school, he received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires. He worked for a few years in that capacity in the food section of Hickethier-Bachmann Laboratory. In 1957, he suffered from life-threatening pneumonia and three cysts were discovered, which required part of one lung being removed. In the same year, at the age of 21, he made up his mind: he will become a priest.
Jorge Mario studied at the archdiocesan seminary Inmaculada Concepción in Villa Devoto, Buenos Aires, and after three years entered the Society of Jesus as a novice on March 11, 1958. As a Jesuit novice he studied humanities in Santiago, Chile. At the conclusion of his noviciate in the Society of Jesus, Bergoglio officially became a member of the Jesuit Order on March 12, 1960.
In 1960 he earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires. In 1967, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest on December 13, 1969 by Bishop Ramon Jose Castellano, archbishop of Cordoba. He attended the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, a seminary in San Miguel. He served as the Master of novices for the Province there and as a professor of theology.
Father Bergoglio completed his final stage of spiritual formation as a Jesuit, tertianship, at Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and took his perpetual vows in the Society of Jesus on April 22, 1973. He was named Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina on July 31 of the same year, and served until 1979. After the completion of his term of office, in 1980 he was named the rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel in San Miguel, and served in that capacity until 1986. During the same period, he is also the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in San Miguel, and denounced, in his homilies, the corruption of the political class and the crisis of values in Argentina.
In 1986, He spent several months at the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany, while considering possible dissertation topics (including a thesis on Fr. Romano Guardini), before returning to Argentina to serve as a confessor and spiritual director to the Jesuit community in Córdoba.
In 1992, at the age of 56, he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires by Pope John Paul II, and was ordained on June 27, 1992 by Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. On June 3, 1997, Bergoglio was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires with right of automatic succession. On February 28, 1998, upon the death of cardinal Quarracino, Bergoglio became the new archbishop of Buenos Aires.
One of Archbishop Bergoglio’s major initiatives was to increase the Church’s presence in the slums of Buenos Aires, frequently going to the worst slums himself without any entourage. Archbishop Bergoglio refused to live in the elegant bishop’s residence and chooses to live in a simple apartment near the cathedral, and cooked his own meals. He has no chauffeur, and took public transportation wearing the cassock of a simple priest.
Getting up daily at 4:30 a.m., he regularly heard confessions in the cathedral. He installed a private telephone line for his priests to have easier access and breakfasts frequently with each one of them. In 2000, he asks the whole Church in Argentina to “to put on the garments of public penance for the public sins committed during the years of military dictatorship.” Archbishop Bergoglio also celebrated the Holy Thursday ritual washing of feet in a jail, a hospital, a home for the elderly or with poor people. In 2001, for example, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.
At the consistory of February 21, 2001, Archbishop Bergoglio was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II with the title of cardinal-priest of San Roberto Bellarmino.
In October, 2001, he is appointed adjunct relator (recording secretary) in the Synod of Bishops in Rome, devoted to the theme of the ministry of Bishops. During this Synod, Cardinal Bergoglio stressed the prophetic mission of the Bishop, his identidy as a prophet of justice, his duty to preach without ceasing the social doctrine of the Church, and also his duty to express genuine judgment in matters of faith and morals.
In the meantime, he became more and more popular in Latin America, keeping a sober lifestyle that some compare to that of a monk. It was in this spirit that he refused to become President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, but he was nevertheless elected president in 2005, then re-elected to another three-year term on November 11, 2008. In 2005, he took part in the conclave to choose a successor to John Paul II.
While denoucning social injustices and defending the poor, he also defended the moral teachings of the Church. In June, 2010, when the Argentine government introduced same-sex marriage legislation, Cardinal Bergoglio publicly denounced this bill and wrote the following letter to the Carmelite nuns of his archdiocese, asking for their prayers:
“Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who have received the mandate to grow, multiply, and subdue the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is a pretence to destroy the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project, but rather a ‘move’ of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.
“Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, our homeland, in this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost to place the light of Truth amid these shadows of error; it needs this Advocate to defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, sophisms which confuse and deceive even people of good will.”
On March 13, 2013, the second day of the conclave, after five ballots, Cardinal Bergoglio received more than two-thirds of the votes, and thus became the 266th Pope, and successor of Benedict XVI. As soon as the final result of the vote is known, cardinal Bergoglio is immediately asked two questions: «Do you accept your election, and what name do you choose.”
To the first question, he replied: “I am a sinner and I am aware of it, but I have a great trust in the mercy of God. Since you have elected me, or rather, since God has chosen me, I accept.” And to the second question, he replied: “I will be called Francis, in memory of St. Francis of Assisi.”
On March 16, he explained the choice of this name to the representative of the communications media: “Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!”
“And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”
The Italian magazine 30 Days reported in April 2005, after the death of Pope John Paul II, this testimony of Cardinal Bergoglio:
“If I remember well it was 1985. One evening I went to recite the Holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father. He was in front of everybody, on his knees. The group was numerous; I saw the Holy Father from the back and, little by little, I got lost in prayer. I was not alone: I was praying in the middle of the people of God to which I and all those there belonged, led by our Pastor.
“In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his piety, his devotion was a witness. And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which he knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria.
“His witness struck me. I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: ‘Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?’ I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope. That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.”
The first act of Pope Francis, the day after his election, was to go to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and to deliver a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary. He placed it at the feet of the image of Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People), just as he had announced on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the evening before: “Tomorrow I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome.”
It has been said that what convinced several cardinals to vote for Bergoglio was the speech he made in front of all the other cardinals a few days before the conclave. Cardinal Bergoglio said:
“Evangelizing implies apostolic zeal. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery. When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick with ‘spiritual worldliness’. The next Pope must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’
Cardinal Ortega of Cuba was so impressed with the speech he asked the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for a copy of the intervention. Cardinal Ortega received permission from Pope Francis to share the information.
The Church — each one of her members — must be a missionary one. This is what will make the Church stay young. To go and bear witness to Christ not only through words, but through our lifestyle, with goodness and tenderness. Let us joyfully answer this call of Pope Francis!