The Pope of the People
He would walk in plain priestly clothes through the working-class neighborhoods populated by Catholics from his own ethnic background. He often travelled by bus or subway, and when he moved out of the Archbishop’s Palace, he relocated into a small apartment. Destitution and rampant violence did not deter him from his pastoral duty. Rather, they motivated him to comfort the suffering, promote justice and bring salvation to his people by celebrating the sacraments and tirelessly preaching the Gospel.
The pastoral and theological background of Pope Francis — then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires — reflects the fullness of the Gospel message, summarized in Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us.
Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina is a country of contrasts. Its people are well educated and it is more economically developed than many of its neighbors. Yet, it also has examples of extreme wealth and abject poverty. In fact, knowing that the wealthy often do not live up to the demands of charity despite the needs around them, then-Cardinal Bergoglio once warned, “You avoid taking into account the poor. We have no right to duck down, to lower the arms carried by those in despair.”
Through both his words and actions, our new pope truly exemplifies the mandate to follow Christ’s great commandments: to love God completely, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Moreover, the pope understands well that our love of God and neighbor requires us to defend and promote the Church’s social teachings.
The Holy Father is well known in Latin America for his courage in defending the right to life from conception to natural death. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he denounced a “culture of discarding the unborn and the elderly [and] treating them as if they are disposable and worthless.”
Despite conflicts with the highest levels of government regarding Catholic social teaching, he always recognized that the cultural battle being waged was more spiritual than political in nature. When a bill to approve same-sex “marriage” was introduced in Argentina, he wrote a letter to all of the monasteries in Buenos Aires asking for prayers for the protection of marriage and the family.
“Let’s not be naive,” he wrote. “We are not talking about a simple political battle; this is a destructive pretension against the plan of God.”
In the end, Pope Francis knows the joy of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, even amid the confusion of the world. He embraces the cross, and filled with faith, hope and love, seeks to build up the Church.
On the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, as he greeted his flock for the first time, Pope Francis remarked, “This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity, is a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world, so that a great brotherhood may be created.”
In light of the Order’s long tradition of living the Gospel mandate of charity toward neighbor, fidelity to the Church and promotion of Catholic social teaching, the Knights of Columbus joyously embraces Pope Francis as a spiritual father. And it is not difficult for Knights to see in the pope’s introductory words a clear call to remember the key principles of charity, unity and fraternity, which have an important place in Pope Francis’ heart.
ALEJANDRO BERMÚDEZ is director of Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa. A native of Lima, Peru, he studied in Argentina and the United States.
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF POPE FRANCIS
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was born Dec. 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was one of five children, and his father, an Italian immigrant from the region around Turin, worked as a railroad employee.
After earning a degree as a chemical technician, Bergoglio discerned a vocation to the priesthood and entered seminary. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in 1958 and studied in Chile. He returned to Buenos Aires in 1963 and earned a degree in philosophy at the St. Joseph Major Seminary of San Miguel, where he later earned a degree in theology.
Bergoglio was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 13, 1969, and from 1972 to 1973, he served as the novice master at Villa Varilari in San Miguel. Shortly after making his perpetual vows, he was elected Jesuit Provincial for Argentina on July 31, 1973. After serving in this role for six years, he went on to be rector of the philosophical and theological faculty of San Miguel and pastor of Patriarca San Jose Parish.
In 1986, he was sent to Germany to complete his doctoral thesis. He later served at the University of El Salvador in Buenos Aires and in Cordoba as a confessor and spiritual director.
Pope John Paul II appointed Father Bergoglio as an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires on May 20, 1992, and archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. Archbishop Bergoglio was also appointed the ordinary of Eastern-rite Catholics in Argentina. He became a cardinal in 2001 and served as president of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina from 2005 until 2011.
Elected the 266th successor of St. Peter on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Francis in reference to St. Francis of Assisi. He is the first non-European pope in modern history, and the first ever from the Americas.