Jesuit Father Juan Carlos Scannone was teaching Greek and literature in 1957, when a young Jorge Bergoglio was among his students.
Father Scannone is today retired from the philosophy faculty at the Faculty of Philosophy of San Miguel, where the future Pope studied. He now heads the Institute of Philosophical Research, as well as being an adviser of the Justice and Solidarity office of Latin American bishops’ council (CELAM).
Father Scannone recalled his former student in this email interview with ZENIT.
ZENIT: When did you meet Jorge Mario Bergoglio and what relation have you had with him?
Father Scannone: I have known Pope Francis since he was a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, I believe since 1957, before he entered the Jesuit novitiate. I was then his professor of Greek and Literature, because Jorge Mario already had his Bachelor’s degree, but he had to spend two years in the Minor Seminary to study Latin, forming part of the “Latinists,” young men who had already finished secondary school but had not studied Classic Humanities.
Later, on my return from studying in Europe, in 1967, I met him again as a student of Theology at the Faculty of Theology. We were living in the same religious House, the Colegio Maximo de San Jose. When I was Novice Master, although he lived in another House, I gave him spiritual direction. Later, we lived in the same Colegio Maximo, for most of his six years as Provincial (1973-1979) and his six additional years as Rector both of the said Colegio as well as of the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology of San Miguel (1979-1985). He was professor of Pastoral Theology at the Faculty of Theology, and I was professor of Philosophical Theology at the Faculty of Philosophy. We had a daily and very cordial relation.
ZENIT: How did Jorge Bergoglio direct the Church in Buenos Aires? What were his principal virtues?
Father Scannone: Although San Miguel is a different diocese from that of Buenos Aires, from the testimonies of others and the public at large I can say that his governance was, on one hand, very pastoral, with special care for what he calls the “faithful people” and their popular piety, especially the poor. And on the other hand, his was a spiritual governance that impressed the young priests. He openly supported the “slum priests,” those who worked in the slums or favelas, and he visited them frequently. He promoted “pastoral conversion,” of which the Document of Aparecida talks, trying to put the Church in a state of mission, encouraging the pastoral agents and pastors not to wait for the faithful in the churches, but to go out to the streets and squares, seeking everyone, especially the most excluded. He strongly promoted interreligious dialogue with Judaism and Islam, Argentina being one of the places where, thanks to the mediation of the Catholic Church, Islam and Judaism are in fruitful dialogue. His style was always spiritual, simple and austere, with unexpected gestures of personal charity, paying attention at the same time to the public and political realm, and to specific persons.
ZENIT: How are the Jesuits of Buenos Aires living these first days of the Argentine Pope’s pontificate?
Father Scannone: There is great joy among the Argentine Jesuits and much hope, especially on seeing the symbolic gestures that the new Pope is making, and his first decisions. Moreover, the very fact that he is Latin American is a sort of revolution in the Church and a real sign of the times and of the present transformations.
ZENIT: Do you have a special memory of Jorge Bergoglio as cardinal?
Father Scannone: I have many memories, but I wish to give the testimony of a friend of mine, who was an expert at Aparecida. When, before the Conference, the latter asked the cardinal on what it should necessarily be centered, the cardinal answered “Christ and the poor.” I think this is an apt picture of him.
ZENIT: Of all the struggles the Pope had to face as cardinal in Argentina, which was the principal one in your opinion?
Father Scannone: It’s not easy to answer this question. At least it can be said that, among the principal struggles he had to face, there were two that are related to the present mission of the Society