OF THE HOLY FATHER
The first Pope of the Americas Jorge Mario Bergoglio hails from
Argentina. The 76-year-old Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires is a prominent
figure throughout the continent, yet remains a simple pastor who is deeply loved
by his diocese, throughout which he has travelled extensively on the underground
and by bus during the 15 years of his episcopal ministry.
“My people are poor and I am one of them”, he has said more than
once, explaining his decision to live in an apartment and cook his own supper.
He has always advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to
keep their doors open to everyone. The worst thing that could happen to the
Church, he has said on various occasions, “is what de Lubac called spiritual
worldliness”, which means, “being self-centred”. And when he speaks of social
justice, he calls people first of all to pick up the Catechism, to
rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project is simple: if
you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a
Despite his reserved character — his official biography consists
of only a few lines, at least until his appointment as Archbishop of Buenos
Aires — he became a reference point because of the strong stances he took during
the dramatic financial crisis that overwhelmed the country in 2001.
He was born in Buenos Aires on 17 December 1936, the son of
Italian immigrants. His father Mario was an accountant employed by the railways
and his mother Regina Sivori was a committed wife dedicated to raising their
five children. He graduated as a chemical technician and then chose the path of
the priesthood, entering the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. On 11 March 1958
he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He completed his studies of
the humanities in Chile and returned to Argentina in 1963 to graduate with a
degree in philosophy from the Colegio de San José in San Miguel. From 1964 to
1965 he taught literature and psychology at Immaculate Conception College in
Santa Fé and in 1966 he taught the same subject at the Colegio del Salvatore in
Buenos Aires. From 1967-70 he studied theology and obtained a degree from the
Colegio of San José.
On 13 December 1969 he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Ramón
José Castellano. He continued his training between 1970 and 1971 at the
University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and on 22 April 1973 made his final
profession with the Jesuits. Back in Argentina, he was novice master at Villa
Barilari, San Miguel; professor at the Faculty of Theology of San Miguel;
consultor to the Province of the Society of Jesus and also Rector of the Colegio
Máximo of the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology.
On 31 July 1973 he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in
Argentina, an office he held for six years. He then resumed his work in the
university sector and from 1980 to 1986 served once again as Rector of the
Colegio de San José, as well as parish priest, again in San Miguel. In March
1986 he went to Germany to finish his doctoral thesis; his superiors then sent
him to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires and next to the Jesuit Church in
the city of Córdoba as spiritual director and confessor.
It was Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires,
who wanted him as a close collaborator. So, on 20 May 1992 Pope John Paul II
appointed him titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. On 27 May he
received episcopal ordination from the Cardinal in the cathedral. He chose as
his episcopal motto, miserando atque eligendo, and on his coat of arms
inserted the ihs, the symbol of the Society of Jesus.
He gave his first interview as a bishop to a parish newsletter,
Estrellita de Belém. He was immediately appointed Episcopal Vicar of the
Flores district and on 21 December 1993 was also entrusted with the office of
Vicar General of the Archdiocese. Thus it came as no surprise when, on 3 June
1997, he was raised to the dignity of Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Not
even nine months had passed when, upon the death of Cardinal Quarracino, he
succeeded him on 28 February 1998, as Archbishop, Primate of Argentina and
Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who have no Ordinary of their
Three years later at the Consistory of 21 February 2001, John
Paul ii created him Cardinal, assigning him the title of San Roberto Bellarmino.
He asked the faithful not to come to Rome to celebrate his creation as Cardinal
but rather to donate to the poor what they would have spent on the journey. As
Grand Chancellor of the Catholic University of Argentina, he is the author of
the books: Meditaciones para religiosos (1982), Reflexiones sobre la
vida apostólica (1992) and Reflexiones de esperanza (1992).
In October 2001 he was appointed General Relator to the 10th
Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Episcopal Ministry.
This task was entrusted to him at the last minute to replace Cardinal Edward
Michael Egan, Archbishop of New York, who was obliged to stay in his homeland
because of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. At the Synod he placed
particular emphasis on “the prophetic mission of the bishop”, his being a
“prophet of justice”, his duty to “preach ceaselessly” the social doctrine of
the Church and also “to express an authentic judgement in matters of faith and
All the while Cardinal Bergoglio was becoming ever more popular
in Latin America. Despite this, he never relaxed his sober approach or his
strict lifestyle, which some have defined as almost “ascetic”. In this spirit of
poverty, he declined to be appointed as President of the Argentine Bishops’
Conference in 2002, but three years later he was elected and then, in 2008,
reconfirmed for a further three-year mandate. Meanwhile in April 2005 he took
part in the Conclave in which Pope Benedict XVI was elected.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires — a diocese with more than three
million inhabitants — he conceived of a missionary project based on communion
and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an
informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every
inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He aimed to
reevangelize Buenos Aires, “taking into account those who live there, its
structure and its history”. He asked priests and lay people to work together. In
September 2009 he launched the solidarity campaign for the bicentenary of the
Independence of the country. Two hundred charitable agencies are to be set up by
2016. And on a continental scale, he expected much from the impact of the
message of the Aparecida Conference in 2007, to the point of describing it as
the “Evangelii Nuntiandi of Latin America”.
Until the beginning of the recent sede vacante, he was a
member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the
Family and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
He was elected Supreme Pontiff on 13 March 2013.
L'Osservatore Romano, Year LXIII, number 12