* * *
When Saint Ignatius of Loyola discovered Jesus Christ, and allowed himself to be found by Him, he wished to leave everything and go to the Holy Land and to live there as Jesus lived, going to the same places and seeking persons whom the Lord might have met. Thus he abandoned his life as a nobleman and a promising military career, and went to study theology at Paris, to eventually undertake his trip to the Holy Places.
However, he was never able to fulfill his wish, because the Lord had prepared other paths for him. In fact, the Lord wanted him to found the Society of Jesus with fellow students he met when he was studying in Paris. This work of God, realized by men, would be one of the instruments used by Providence to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So, with the help of so many missionaries who gave their lives to Jesus Christ, the Church grew considerably from Europe to Asia, and from Europe to America.
In the extreme south of the Americas, namely, at the outermost boundaries of the evangelization begun in 1492, the faith would grow, be formed and mature, with the help of Jesuits, in one of the Successors of Peter: Pope Francis.
He was ordained a priest at 33, and was auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires at 56. In 1998 he was appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires and in 2001 was created cardinal by John Paul II.
I had the good fortune to meet with the then archbishop of Buenos Aires on several occasions. In 2000 I took part in the Archdiocesan Meeting of Catechists in Buenos Aires, which was presided over by Jorge Bergoglio. After the talks, prayer and Mass, he approached each one of the catechists, greeted them and exchanged pleasantries. The impression he gave was of a simple, direct person with whom it is easy to converse.
Then I saw him at the Argentine Catholic University, where I was studying law. Bergoglio was the university’s Grand Chancellor, and he attended some academic ceremonies. After the presenting of diplomas, we had the opportunity to talk with him and he reminded us that we had the duty to be servants, to put everything we had received at the service of society. I think this is also a characteristic of Pope Francis: he doesn’t keep anything for himself, he doesn’t worry if people think good or ill of him, so long as he can put all his talents at the service of the neediest.
I also want to share an anecdote, which reveals one of his characteristics as a priest: that of his being a Christ-centered man. On one occasion, I was working with the “Night of Charity” of a Buenos Aires parish, the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The “Night of Charity” is an activity carried out in Buenos Aires, in which each parish goes out once a week to distribute food to individuals who live on the street, and primarily to take Christ to them. Bergoglio was always clear about the order of activities: first Eucharistic Adoration, then go out to meet Christ who is in the poor who live on the streets, to give them something to eat, to engage in conversation with them, which enables us to take Christ to those persons. On one occasion we wanted to enlarge the parish radius of the “Night of Charity,” to reach more people. Through the parish priest, Cardinal Bergoglio said to us: “Don’t be hasty. This isn’t fast food, but the order is Christ first, then Christ, and finally Christ.” (That is, Christ in Eucharistic Adoration, Christ in the poor, and taking Christ to the poor). I think Pope Francis will be concerned especially with the poorest, to take Christ to them. In some way, for Cardinal Bergoglio the periphery of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires was the center. Now I think that for Pope Francis, the center of the Church will be in the periphery, at the extremities, where few reach.
Finally, I would like to share with you some impressions I had when I was able to speak personally with Cardinal Bergoglio on entering the seminary. In the first place, the interview was scheduled by his secretary, who told me: "Give me your cell phone number to coordinate the day and the time, but it might be that the cardinal calls you directly without letting me know.” Indeed, the next day my telephone rang and it was Cardinal Bergoglio. Apparently his secretary found out after he spoke with me. This is a characteristic of his personality: he governs many things directly, without intermediaries, and this surely gives him much freedom of action. In many cases, this also makes him an unpredictable person.
I was very nervous going to the interview, as it was the first time I would be speaking with a cardinal. On arriving, I met with a priest, dressed in a black priestly shirt, black trousers, and worn-out shoes. He had his pectoral cross, certainly the same one that Pope Francis now uses. After joking with me, the conversation turned out to be relaxed, affable, as one that a father can have with his son. He listened to me attentively for a good while and every now and then made a comment. I was especially impressed by his devotion to Mary, to Saint Joseph and to the Eucharist. I was also impressed by his predilection for the confessional. He told me that a priest cannot forget the confessional, that there cannot be in a priest’s agenda anything more urgent or important than being in the confessional, because it is where God freely gives his Mercy. He said he would entrust my vocation to the Most Holy Virgin and gave me a holy card of Saint Joseph which, since that day, I pray with every day. He asked me to entrust my vocation and his ministry to the patriarch Saint Joseph. Today I pray to Saint Joseph for Pope Francis.
Last March 13, the day in which Bergoglio was elected Pope, I was providentially in Buenos Aires (the seminary where I study is 50 kilometers from Buenos Aires), going around bookstores to take material to the seminary’s library, where, God willing, I will work this year. When we heard there was white smoke, we went to the Argentine Catholic University where we were able to watch Cardinal Tauran’s announcement. Immediately, unable to believe what we were hearing and seeing, we embraced one another and listened carefully to the new Pope’s words. We learned that there was going to be a Mass in Buenos Aires’ cathedral at 7:00 pm, so we went there. The church was full and people (youths, families with children, elderly) covered half of Plaza de Mayo. The first Mass in thanksgiving was very emotional. We began to realize there that Bergoglio’s election as Pope was a motive for joy for the universal Church, but it was a special blessing for the Church in Argentina. Since March 13, many people have returned to Mass (after years of not attending), the confessionals are full and the activities of the Church make news in all the media in Argentina. I think this is an opportunity for many people to return to the Church and to be reconciled with God.
Bergoglio’s election caused great joy also in the Seminary. Joy that must be guided by a great responsibility, as a bishop told us seminarians. Pope Francis’ election puts us under the magnifying glass of many Movements and local Churches spread around the world. Today the Church looks to Rome, as always, but it also observes Argentina. I think this is something that must make us work more and better, pray more and place ourselves as Church under the mantle of Mary, who from Lujan looks at and blesses the Church in Argentina.
Luis Montesano was born in Buenos Aires in 1983. He is a lawyer and has a doctorate in Law. In 2011 he entered the Saint Joseph Seminary of La Plata (Buenos Aires). He is in the 4th year of the Seminary. He was a catechist, member of the group of the University pastoral ministry, of different youth groups, and gave classes in law and ethics at the Argentine Catholic University and Austral University in Buenos Aires.