Humble priest’s journey to the top

By: FRANCIS MUROKI

Pope Francis is known for his humility and simplicity. Until his election as Pope in March 2013, he was a cardinal and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires where he had served from February 21, 2001.

As cardinal, he lived in a simple flat, where he prepared his own meals and rode in public transport to work.

As a priest and bishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was known before assuming the name Pope Francis, worked and lived with the poorest of the poor in the slum areas of Buenos Aires.

“My people are poor, and I am one of them,” he often said.

He always advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage, and keep doors opened for the faithful and indeed, for everyone.

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 self-effacing character — his official biography consisted of only a few lines 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 Argentina in 2001.

He was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, the son of Italian immigrants.

His father, Mario, was an accountant employed by the railways and his mother, Regina Sivori, was dedicated to raising their five children.

Bergoglio graduated as a chemical technician and then chose the path of priesthood, entering the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto.

DONATE TO POOR

On July 31, 1973, he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, an office he held for six years.

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 then to the Jesuit Church in Cordoba as spiritual director and confessor.

It was Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who wanted him as a close collaborator.

As a result, on May 20, 1992, Pope John Paul II appointed him titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires.

A week later, he received episcopal ordination from the cardinal.

He chose as his episcopal motto, miserando atque eligendo (lowly, but chosen) and on his coat of arms inserted the IHS, the symbol of the Society of Jesus.

At the Consistory of February 21, 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 Meditaciones Para Religiosos (1982), Reflexiones Sobre La Vida Apostolica (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.

BECOMING POPULAR

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 11 that year.

With time, 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.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he conceived of a missionary project based on communion and evangelisation.

He aimed to re-evangelise Buenos Aires, “taking into account those who live there, its structure and its history”.

He asked priests and lay people to work together.

He was elected Pope on March 13, 2013.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION