The native of Buenos Aires, who rose to be its Archbishop, prefers the subway to limousines -- 'villas miserias' to ecclesiastical sophistication. The name he took evokes a closeness with those who suffer most.
ROME - By all accounts, the new Pope, 76-year old Argentinean Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had more votes in the last conclave in 2005 than anyone but the man eventually chosen pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger.
Unlike other leading prelates, he had always rejected powerful postings in the Roman Curia -- only coming to the Vatican when it was absolutely necessary.
Among the vices of the men of the Church, the one he least tolerates is to see a kind of “spiritual wordliness”: ecclesiastical careerism disguised as a clerical sophistication.
The new Pope was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, where he would eventually became archbishop. His father was an immigrant from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. After graduating in chemistry, Bergoglio entered the novitiate of the Company of Jesus. He would go on to study in Chile, before obtaining a degree in Philosophy and Theology in Argentina. He was Professor and Rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel and vicar of the Patriarch of San José, in the Diocese of San Miguel.
In 1986, Bergoglio completed a PhD in Germany, before moving back to Argentina, where his superiors made him spiritual director and confessor in the Jesuit Church of Cordoba. In 1992 John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires – six years later Bergoglio succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino as the Archbishop of the Argentine capital, and was named two years ago to be the President of the Argentine Bishops Conference.
The merciful side
Bergoglio stood out among his fellow cardinals for not having a regular car and driver, preferring to use the metro to get around Buenos Aires. In Rome, he also tends to move around by foot or public transportation.
Those who know him well see in him a true man of God: the first thing he always asks people to do is pray for him. Indeed, that same request stood out as a never-before-seen gesture when he emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s on Wednesday evening to see the faithful for the first time as Pope.
In General Congregation meetings of the cardinals that preceded the conclave, Bergoglio spoke of Christianity as merciful and joyful. His favorite priests are those who work in the “villas miserias”, the slums of Buenos Aires. Rather than face down the people with rigid doctrine, he looks for ways to get to embrace the Gospel, even those who are the furthest from the Christian message. The Church, he always repeats, must show the merciful side of God.
Bergoglio did it when he chose his papal name, almost certainly a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, whose message the worthlessness of worldly possessions.