A thoughtful, attentive and likeable uncle, lover of good cooking and always ready to give “good advice.” These were thoughts of nephew Jose Ignacio Bergoglio who revealed new facets of the Pope’s personality, two and a half years into his Pontificate.
In an exclusive with the Spanish newspaper ABC, the son of Maria Elena, the only living sister of Pope Francis, sketches a candid portrait of the present Pontiff, steeped in simple memories and family affection, without neglecting numerous unpublished details that only a relative can know.
For instance, the Holy Father’s telephone call to his sister on the night of his election: “He called my mother, and to the question ‘How are you?’ he answered ‘Well, gordita” [an expression of affection]. Then he added: “I couldn’t refuse.”
“He did not want to be Pope,” recalls Jose Ignacio. “As every Jesuit, he was and is a detached person and then he felt very connected to his Buenos Aires. To the question if he wished to become Pope, obviously he answered ‘no,’ but at the moment of the election there wasn’t a choice: he had to accept. He knew it was God’s plan.”
“In my opinion, the Holy Spirit works in him, because I see him rejuvenated, loose, free, happy, about the things he’s carrying forward. It’s known that when he entered the Society of Jesus he wanted to be a missionary, but health problems blocked his purpose. Today, instead, he does so and can allow himself this grandiose luxury,” he noted.
And to think that his mother Regina (Sivori) at first did not take well her to her son Jorge Mario’s decision to become a priest; her fear was that if he followed the vocation, she would lose her eldest son.” “To tell the truth my uncle had promised my grandmother that he would begin his studies in medicine, but in the end he chose to heal souls,” says his nephew.
One day, “Regina went to my uncle’s room and, to her great surprise, she discovered that he was following a course to enter the Seminary.” There were books in Latin, of Theology. And the lady then said: “Jorge, you’ve lied to me.” “No, mother, I’m studying medicine for souls,” answered the future Pope. Having accepted his decision, however, Regina experienced “great happiness.”
And who knows what joy his grandmother Rosa would have relished on seeing her nephew dressed today in white guiding Peter’s Barque! — the grandmother that many times Francis himself has mentioned as the woman who transmitted the faith to him. Jose Ignacio confirms it: it was grandma Rosa who taught the future Pope to pray and she did so also with his parents, Regina and Mario, who handed down those values left then in inheritance “to all of us.”
“Ours has always been a religious family,” stresses Jose Ignacio, and he reveals also some unpublished particulars on the future Pope’s vocation. “One spring day he was to go on a picnic with friends. That same day he was thinking of declaring his love to a girl he liked very much, but he passed in front of Saint Joseph’s church in the district of Flores (Buenos Aires) and he changed his decision. He entered the church to pray; then he went to confession and spoke at length with a priest and, in this conversation, he discovered that his real love was turned to God.”
Of his special uncle, the nephew does not only recall his faith but also his passion for good cooking, in particular, Italian food. “He knows how to do different styles of pasta. He liked to prepare things for his friends to eat, prepare a collation for himself and make his bed. Today, of course, he is no longer a cook, but he gets up early, at 4, makes his bed, prays and then he starts to work right away,” he says.
On their relationship, the young Bergoglio remembers the Pope as a thoughtful and attentive uncle, “who always gave good advice. We always had an excellent relationship and he has always supported us when close and from afar.” On his election to the papacy, he confirms instead what has already been said of Francis in other conversations and that many fear: “He is capable of taking decisions and therefore, if one day he feels that he is unable to continue, he can take that necessary one: to resign.”