The first American Pope is a Jesuit from Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The 76-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires is for the whole continent a prominent figure and a simple pastor and is deeply loved by his diocese. He has travelled far and wide on the underground and by bus, throughout 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 dinner. He has always recommended to his priests that they show mercy and apostolic courage and 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 calls 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 serious sin”.
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 the education of 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 moved to 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 de Tucumán. 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 Colegio de 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 Rector of the Colegio maximo 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 Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires and then to the Jesuit Church in Córdoba, as spiritual director and confessor.
It was Cardinal Antonio Quarracino who wanted him to be a close collaborator in Buenos Aires. So, on 20 May 1992 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 in 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 task of Vicar General of the Archdiocese. It came as a surprise to no one 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 own rite.
Three years later in 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 go to Rome to celebrate his creation as cardinal but rather to donate to the poor what they would have spent on the journey to Rome. 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 at the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Episcopal Ministry. This task was entrusted to him at the last minute rather than to Cardinal Edward Michael Egan, Archbishop New York, obliged to stay in his homeland because of the terroristi attacks on 11 September. At the Synod he emphasized in particular “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 morals”.
In the meantime in Latin America he was becoming ever more popular. In spite of this however, he did not lose his sober style in his approach or his strict life style, which some have defined as almost “ascetic”. With this spirit in 2002 he declined his nomination as President of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference but three years later he was elected and then in 2008 was reconfirmed for a further three-year mandate. Meanwhile in April 2005 he took part in the Conclave in which Benedict XVI was elected.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires — a diocese with more than three million inhabitants — he conceived of a missionary project focused on communion and evangelization. he had four main goals: open and brotherly communities; an informed laity to play a leading role; evangelization addressed to every inhabitant of the city; assistance to the poor and the sick. He aimed to revangelize Buenos Aires “taking into account those who live there, how it is composed and of its history”. He sent 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 were to be set up by 2016. And in a continental key, he had great hopes in the wake of the message of the Aparecida Conference in 2007, to the point of describing it as the “ Evangelii Nuntiandi of Latin America”.
Until the start of the sede vacante he was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for 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.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 29, 2020
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