Pope Francis (b. 1936)

JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the oldest of five children. His father was an immigrant from Italy and his mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants. He once told an interviewer that he had worked as a nightclub bouncer, a janitor, and an assistant in a chemical laboratory before becoming a Jesuit novice in 1958. 

After a period of time teaching literature and philosophy, Bergoglio obtained a theological education and was ordained a priest in 1969; he took his final vows to the Jesuits in 1973. He continued to teach while also rising in the leadership of the Jesuit order; at one point he considered getting a PhD, but never completed it. In 1992 he was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires; upon the death of his predecessor in 1998, he become sole (“metropolitan”) archbishop of Buenos Aires. In 2001 Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal.

In 2013 after Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by retiring and becoming Pope Emeritus, Bergoglio was elected pope. Observers were surprised that the Catholic Church now had its first pope from the Americas; in fact, he is the first pope from outside Europe in over 1,200 years! Controversial but also popular among Latin American Catholics, Francis has made frequent official visits to Latin America in his six years as pope, including to Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Panama.

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #130 in 2019]

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