Being voted pope was in a way a homecoming for Jorge Bergoglio. His parents were Italians who fled poverty in their home country to find their luck in the Americas. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936. His father Mario was an accountant employed by the railways while his mother Regina Sivori was a homemaker who stayed home and raised five children.
He went to school to become a chemical technician but chose priesthood by entering the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. In 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. He was ordained in 1969 when he was 32 years old.
Despite the late start, Bergoglio rose to prominence. In 1973, he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, an office he held for six years. He 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 1986 he went to Germany to finish his doctoral thesis.
In 1998, Bergoglio succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino as Archbishop, Primate of Argentina.
Pope John Paul II created him cardinal in 2001, assigning him the title of San Roberto Belarmino.
He was known for his conservative views and simple lifestyle. He lived in an apartment and went around by bus.
When he was created a cardinal, he told Argentinians not to waste their money on plane tickets to Rome, urging them to give it instead to the poor.
Bergoglio opposed Argentina’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2010. He argued children need to be raised by a father and a mother.
He also supported a liberal administration of baptism, recognizing the necessity of the sacrament for all children.
He hated inequality. In 2009 Bergoglio criticized the government of Néstor Kirchner, husband of current Argentinian president Cristina Fernández, claiming it was “immoral, illegitimate and unjust” to allow inequality to grow.
He also disputed efforts to promote free contraception and artificial insemination led by Fernandez.
He has not escaped controversy.
Accusations of complicity in the kidnapping in 1976 of two liberal Jesuit priests would haunt him years later.
According to El Silencio (Silence), a 2005 book written by the Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of the two men after they refused to stop visiting the slums and this led to their capture.
“History condemns him,” said Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.
“It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cosy with the military,” added Mallimacci.
This accusations aside, Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis I, is a well-loved figure. The world knows him as “the Pope” or “il Papa” but many in Buenos Aires, he will always be “Father Jorge.”
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