NEWSMAKER - Argentina’s
Modest Man Focuses On The Poor
The Pope will visit the Philippines on January 15-19, 2015. The places to be visited while he is in the Philippines cannot be released until finalized.
Who is the Pope? He is Argentina’s man focused on the poor. According to Alejandro Lifschitz, he is the first Latin American Pope, Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio, a theological conservative with a strong social conscience, known for his negotiating skills as well as a readiness to challenge powerful interests.
He is a modest man from a middle-class family who declined the archbishop’s luxurious residence to live in a simple apartment and travel by bus.
He was also the main candidate against Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave that elected the German to become Pope Benedict, backed by moderate cardinals looking for an alternative to the then Vatican doctrinal chief.
Described by his biographer as a balancing force, Bergoglio, 77, has monk-like habits, is media shy and deeply concerned about the social inequalities rife in his homeland and elsewhere in Latin America.
“He shares the view that the Church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people, that is active ... a Church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it,” she added.
“His lifestyle is sober and austere. That’s the way he lives. He travels on the underground, the bus, when he goes to Rome he flies economy class.”
The former cardinal, the first Jesuit to become pope, was born into a middle-class family of seven, his father an Italian immigrant railway worker and his mother a housewife.
He is a solemn man, deeply attached to centuries-old Roman Catholic traditions as he showed by asking the crowd cheering his election to say the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers.
He spent his weekend in solitude in his apartment outside Buenos Aires and is a member of well-known Argentine soccer club San Lorenzo.
“He was always a very pleasant and accessible person,” said Roberto Crubellier, 66, a church employee in a downtown Buenos Aires church where Bergoglio used to go and pray.
“He used to walk from the cathedral (about 10 blocks) and he stayed, praying silently in the last rows of pews, as though he was just an ordinary guy.”
In his rare public appearances, Bergoglio spared no harsh words for politicians and Argentine society, and has had a tricky relationship with President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Bergoglio became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies. Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years, holding the post of provincial of the Argentine Jesuits from 1973 to 1979.
The newly elected Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)After six years as provincial, he held several academic posts and pursued further study in Germany. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998.
Bergoglio’s career success coincided with the bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship, during which up to 30,000 suspected leftists were kidnapped and killed -- which prompted sharp questions about his role.
The most well-known episode relates to the abduction of two Jesuits whom the military government secretly jailed for their work in poor neighbourhoods.
According to “The Silence,” a book written by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of the two men after they refused to quit visiting the slums, which ultimately paved the way for their capture.
Verbitsky’s book is based on statements by Orlando Yorio, one of the kidnapped Jesuits, before he died of natural causes in 2000. Both of the abducted clergymen suffered five months of imprisonment.
“History condemns him. It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship. It showed he was very cosy with the military,” Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, once said.
His actions during this period strained his relations with many brother Jesuits around the world, who tended to be more politically liberal.
Those who defend Bergoglio say there is no proof behind these claims. On the contrary, they said the priest helped many dissidents escape during the military junta’s rule.
His brother bishops elected him president of the Argentine bishops conference for two terms from 2005 to 2011.
In the Vatican, far removed from the dictatorship’s grim legacy, this quiet priest is expected to lead the Church with an iron grip and a strong social conscience.
In 2010, he challenged the Argentine government when it backed a gay marriage bill.
“Let’s not be naive. This isn’t a simple political fight, it’s an attempt to destroy God’s plan,” he wrote in a letter days before the bill was approved by Congress.
Bergoglio has been close to the conservative Italian religious movement Communion and Liberation, which had the backing of Popes John Paul and Benedict as a way to revitalize faith among young people.
Bergoglio has addressed the group’s annual meeting in Rimini and presented the books of its founder, Rev Luigi Giussani, to readers in Argentina.
His support contrasted to the critical view that another Jesuit, former Milan archbishop Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, had of Communion and Liberation during his life.
Martini died last year, leaving behind a posthumous interview saying the Church was “200 years behind the times.”
Rev Gerard Fogarty, a Jesuit and Church historian at the University of Virginia, said he was “pretty sure I’d never see a Jesuit pope” and was surprised that Bergoglio had been chosen because of the criticism of his stand during the dictatorship.
In the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio emerged as the moderate rival candidate to the conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict. After that conclave, some commentators spoke of Benedict as “the last European pope” and said the Latin Americans had good chances to win the next time./MP