"Pope Francis is a Father Who Cares for Persons as a Priest and Missionary"

Vatican Radio Interview with Father Guillermo Ortiz, SJ, on the First Anniversary of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Election as Bishop of Rome

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Jesuit priest and Vatican Radio commentator Father Guillermo Ortiz has reflected on Pope Francis and his first anniversary as Pope in this recent interview with Vatican Radio.

–Q: You know Pope Francis well, because he received you into the Society of Jesus and he was your formator and parish priest.

–Father Ortiz: I have known Father Bergoglio since 1977, when I asked to enter the Society of Jesus, while he was Provincial Superior of the Argentine Jesuits. I could say, to synthesize in this interview, that I know a father, a priest, a missionary, a man molded by Gods call in his heart and his answer, his constant yes to God; molded by Ignatian spirituality, by the Spiritual Exercises, by apostolic zeal, by the fire of Gods Spirit in his heart, as he himself says in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

In the course of this first year of his Pontificate, many persons have asked which aspect represents him best and, in my opinion, it is his paternity. I give the example of a father who is afraid to tell his son how things are because he fears his son will get angry with him, will not love him anymore or leave home. This happens a lot, and I see it in the confessional when I speak with fathers about the difficulties they feel.

As a Jesuit formator, Father Bergoglio was, in my experience, a father. A father in the sense that he is concerned with you, looks at you, considers you, takes charge of you as a father, but who at the same time is able to say things to you and to exact from you what corresponds without fear, but supporting you. His objective was that you get to know the Society of Jesus. We call formation probation, because it is a test to see if the Lord is calling you, to know what the Society of Jesus is, and to see if you are able to be a Jesuit. So he said things to you, was close and supported you.

I think that his great paternity has to do also with the fact that he was not just concerned with the intellectual part because we were studying Philosophy, Theology and Humanities but also with the spiritual part. Everything was united. We also had to clean the house, cook the food, take care of the animals to have meat to eat; we had a kitchen garden, we had everything and he worked with us.

Something I always recall is that we could be engaged in spiritual direction, spiritual support or examination of conscience and we would stop, because it was the moment we had to go to the laundry room to put the clothes in the washing machine, and he would do this, he would then take the clothes out and call us to hang them outside to dry. I think that one of the things one sees is that he is a practical man, a very able man.

-Q: What aspects of this paternity would you like to highlight?

–Father Ortiz: Some think that he doesnt have intellectual formation, but he has an extraordinary intellectual capacity. He is able to write a book, elaborate an address, give classes. I have had him as pastoral professor in the Colegio Maximo of Saint Joseph of San Miguel, in the Faculties of Theology andPhilosophy. If he has to give a class, a lesson, including an opening class of the University at the beginning of the year in which I participated his intellectual capacity is really extraordinary, his knowledge of authors, etc.

On the other hand, however, when he has to celebrate a Mass with youngsters, he engages in dialogue, his homily is a dialogue, not a speech a true dialogue, where things are practical. Things are practical! He is a very practical person. And this is seen as Pope. He suggests things, says how things are, he doesnt make a speech to explain why things are the way they are, but how they should be. For instance, in his criticisms of poverty, of hunger, or when he prays for peace, because we have to pray for peace given the many wars, no? He is a practical man.

I would say that he knows where to place himself, especially because he puts himself in front of the person. He has that ability to know who is before him, who he is with, and to deal with it according to the situation and the person, or the persons with whom he is. He has a very practical, spiritual, intellectual, apostolic, missionary capacity. Everything is ordered to make you see that God wants you, that God loves you, that God forgives you.

Another aspect that might be important, in which this paternity is clearly seen, is his apostolic zeal. I had him as formator, as professor, as spiritual director, as Superior. As parish priest in the parish of the Patriarch Saint Joseph Jesus Gospel appears, his apostolic zeal, the missionary nature of the Church. And in a very concrete way, the call to Jesuits in formation, who were in the parish, to come out of the cave of egoism, to come out of ourselves, not to stay combing our favorite little sheep, but to go out to the others, to go, to go forward, to meet the people, to seek the people.

And this going out to the poor, to the sick, to the weakest, to children, to look for youngsters for the Catechism, to visit the sick, in this case, in the area behind the Colegio Maximo at that time there were 10 hectares a door was opened to workers neighborhoods, bordering on shantytowns, to go out to the fringes. The front door of the Colegio Maximo looks out on a main road and on country estates. The back door looks out on workers neighborhoods, and we would go out to these neighborhoods.

I had to go eleven blocks away from the parish headquarters, where he was the first parish priest, also as Superior of the Maximo, to go out among the people, far from the security of the parish itself, which remained with the door opened to the neighborhood outside, but to the whole parish inside of what was the Colegio Maximo.

An invitation to go out, to seek the people, who are already aware that the other is Christ, as he now expresses directly with his gestures and his words, which is to go to touch Christs wounds in the other who is suffering, to have the joy of encounter, of sharing the love of God, the joy of the Gospel. This was already present at that time.

–Q: How did you live the moment of Bergoglios election as Bishop of Rome?

–Father Ortiz: Thank you Cecilia for this question, for Vatican Radio, the Popes Radio, the Popes Voice. A year ago I had this hope in my heart, because I knew Bergoglio, and I knew of his authority among the Cardinals. In a Synod of Bishops here in Rome, he had to replace the secretary to coordinate, and the Bishops and the persons were left with a very good impression.

We know that in the previous Conclave, where Ratzinger was elected as Bishop of Rome, Bergoglios presence, his person, had a very particular significance. We also knew his authority, and his fundamental role in Aparecida, the 5thConference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, from which he himself now takes his direction, the essential lines for his own Pontificate.

Moreover, he himself said that, as Pope, he is obeying what was discussed in the Congregations prior to the Conclave. I also see here much of the Jesuit spirit of obedience to the 5thConference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, and also to the Cardinals, to the Church, because there was much talk, much discussion in the Congregations prior to the Conclave, on what the Pope should be like. These Congregations were long to discern what the profile of the Pope should be like and what the problems of the Church were at the time which the Pope had to address.

Then, the Cardinals applied this profile in the Conclave and elected him. And as he himself said in the first audience with journalists on March 16, explaining why he had chosen the name Francis he confided that when the votes rose, passing 90, that is when Cardinal Hummes said to him: Dont forget the poor.

–Q: What was the last time you saw Father Bergoglio before his election as Bishop of Rome?

–Father Ortiz: I met him on the Saturday before the Conclave. I wa
s talking with him on the way to Saint Peters Square, before the Congregation began that day. I was impressed and struck  — although I had never lost contact with him by his serenity, his solidity, his good humor speaking of things that were laughable because he is always joking, he looks for something that is amusing in conversations. In turn I also posed a topic that could be delicate for the Church and yet, he always kept the same good humor, the same solidity and serenity. It made a very great, wonderful impression on me, to meet with this very grown father, so solid in his faith, so serene at such a grave moment, we could say, of the Church as is the election of the Pope.

Although I had a dream and a hope, despite all the predictions that he was no longer papabile but a great Elector, I though he was staying in Rome to collaborate with the Pope I even had the idea that he might be the Secretary of State because I couldnt conceive that he, with all his ability, wouldnt stay in Rome. And I was convinced of that, that he would be among the Cardinals that would collaborate with the Pope, I was certain. Of course there was the hope that he would be Pope.

However, when I went to broadcast, after the white smoke, and when Cardinal Tauran said Jorge Mario then he said Cardinal of the Church , before saying the surname, I who was already broadcasting for all the Spanish speaking on Vatican Radio, the Voice of the Pope, got completely blocked and I was only able to say: up to now Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jesuit, and I couldnt say more, I was completely blocked by the emotion. They had elected my father Pope.

–Q: What can you say a year after Father Bergoglios election as Bishop of Rome?

–Father Ortiz: A year after his election as Bishop of Rome I can say that he is the same Father Bergoglio, concerned about the people, concerned to take the love of Jesus, liberation, Jesus salvation, especially to the suffering without judging, without making distinctions, what is important is the person, the dignity of the person, the condition of child of God.

I recommend reading the Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, as something written personally, because I think it is a description of himself when he says: in number 269: Jesus himself is the model of this evangelizing option which introduces us in the heart of the people. How much good it does us to see him close to everyone! If he spoke to someone he looked at his eyes with profound loving attention: And Jesus looking upon him loved him (Mark 10-21). We see him accessible when he approaches the blind mind by the roadside (cf. Mark 10:46-52) and when he eats and drinks with sinners (cf. Mark 2:16), not caring that they treat him as a glutton and a drunkard (cf. Matthew 11-19). We see him willing, when a prostitutes anoints his feet (cf. Luke  7:36-50) or when he receives Nicodemus at night (cf. John 3:1-15)

This is what happens in Saint Peters Square, what has happened during this whole year, where there is the meeting of someone who looks at the person, who listens to him, even if it is a multitude, be it a person who is in the Square who arrived there by his own means, or a sick person who is behind on a stretcher or in a wheelchair. There is a meeting where he looks at the person, where he listens to the person, where he embraces the person, where he kisses, where he blesses. Then the person feels himself considered in his essential dignity of human person and in addition in his condition as child of God.

And people wonder: Why this gesture of tenderness, of love, to me? And as Francis answered the youngsters in the Casal de Marmo prison for minors, who asked him: Why do you wash our feet? Why do you do this with us? He answered them: Because Jesus taught me to do so. And when people shout in the Square: Francis! Francis! He has already said several times Dont shout Francis, shout Jesus!, because what he is doing is mirroring Christ, making himself neighbor, effecting this culture of encounter where each one is appreciated in his dignity and in his condition of child of God.

Francis is mirroring Jesus, it is the Gospel re-issued in Saint Peters Square, or in places where Francis is with the people. Therefore, for me, with Francis these terms now have a very particular meaning: Pontiff, bridge between God and men; priest, mediator between God and men; Vicar of Christ; Bishop of Rome, who is speaking to us with his gestures and his words of the essential of the Gospel.

It is the same Father Bergoglio but recharged, reinforced, grown in this continuity and perseverance in his answer to Gods call, to his Yes to God, a man of profound spirituality, of profound prayer, of a long time in prayer, reinforced as father, as pastor, as missionary, as priest. This, undoubtedly, has to do with the grace of state. We speak of the grace of state, that grace that God gives for the mission one must fulfill.

I think he himself described it very well when he said in an interview: I like being a priest, I like being a father. And we see this clearly; this is at the bottom of all that we are now living and that I have lived since 77 when I met him.

I also like to quote number 273 of the Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, where I think that, in addition to speaking personally, he is describing himself: The mission in the heart of the people is not a part of my life, or a decoration that I can take off; it is not an appendix or yet another moment of existence. It is something that I cannot root out of my being if I do not wish to destroy myself. I am a mission in this land, and that is why I am in this world. One must recognize oneself as marked by fire for that mission to illumine, bless, vivify, raise, cure, liberate

I think that in the word mission, I am a mission in this land, the word passion is already included. Bergoglio, Father Bergoglio, Pope Francis, is one in love with Jesus, passionate for Jesus and his people; someone that has a daily encounter with Jesus in prayer and thus goes out to encounter the other. Driven, moved by Jesus, for love of Jesus, to go out of himself even if he has health difficulties, to go out to be with the other, to go to the other, to contemplate him, to look at him. It is a passion, it is a mission which becomes a passion without which life has no meaning.

–Q: What do you feel now in front of Pope Francis?

–Father Ortiz: To conclude, Cecilia Mutual of Vatican Radio would like to give this personal testimony: Pope Francis invites me personally with his Pontificate, with his priesthood, as father, as pastor, as missionary, to go to encounter Jesus in prayer, to be able to go out to encounter Jesus himself and to touch his wounds in a suffering brother, and, with his example, I ask God for this grace. He is for me a true blessing, a grace of God, that God gave me this gift. Thanks to Vatican Radio I am able to speak about this much loved Father, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis, who invites me to the encounter with Jesus.

[Translation from Spanish by ZENIT]
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