Pope Francis leaves the Sistine Chapel after being elected pope and shortly before appearing for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13.

CNS PHOTO | L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope Francis leaves the Sistine Chapel after being elected pope and shortly before appearing for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13.

March 25, 2013
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Oscar Justo, 60, begs for bills and coins from a perch next to St. Joseph Parish in Barrio de Flores, the Buenos Aires neighbourhood where Pope Francis was born.

As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis passed by often, walking from the bus stop or surfacing from a nearby subway station. But he always took time to greet Justo, offer a blessing and provide a few pesos.

"He always gave me something . . . sometimes 100 pesos ($20)," said Justo, 60, who lost both legs in a railway accident.

Such stories of kindness abound in Buenos Aires, where Pope Francis was archbishop for 15 years, until being elected pope March 13.

Portenos, as locals here are known, came to know Pope Francis as an unpretentious prelate, who took public transit, showed preoccupation for the poor and challenged the authorities.

Bergoglio, 76 was elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on the first full day of the conclave on the conclave's fifth ballot. It was a surprisingly quick conclusion to a conclave that began with many plausible candidates and no clear favourite.

The Latin American pope, a Jesuit, was chosen by at least two-thirds of the 115 cardinals from 48 countries, who cast their ballots in the Sistine Chapel.

His election was announced in Latin from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, to a massive crowd in the square below and millions watching around the world.

White smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 7:05 p.m. signaling that the cardinals had chosen a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI. At 7:07 p.m., the bells of St. Peter's Basilica began pealing continuously to confirm the election.

At 8:12 p.m., French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, appeared at the basilica balcony and read out in Latin: "I announce to you a great joy: We have a pope! The most eminent and most reverend lord, Lord Jorge, cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Bergoglio, who has taken for himself the name Francis."

The crowd in the square responded with cheers, applause and the waving of national flags.

TALENT FOR LEADERSHIP

Bergoglio has had a growing reputation as a very spiritual man with a talent for pastoral leadership.

Since 1998, he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people. To many in Buenos Aires, he is known simply as "Father Jorge."

He also has created new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, led pro-life initiatives and started new pastoral programs, such as a commission for divorcees.

He co-presided over the 2001 Synod of Bishops and was elected to the synod council, so he is well-known to the world's bishops.

The cardinal has also written books on spirituality and meditation and has been outspoken against abortion and same-sex marriages.

In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Bergoglio encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could "seriously injure the family."

He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in "depriving (children) of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother."

CHALLENGED GOVERNMENT

In 2006, he criticized an Argentine proposal to legalize abortion under certain circumstances as part of a wide-ranging legal reform.

He accused the government of lacking respect for the values held by the majority of Argentinians and of trying to convince the Catholic Church "to waver in our defence of the dignity of the person."

His role often forced him to speak publicly about the economic, social and political problems facing his country.

His homilies and speeches are filled with references to the fact that all people are brothers and sisters and that the Church and the country need to do what they can to make sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and cared for.

While not overtly political, Bergoglio has not tried to hide the political and social impact of the Gospel message, particularly in a country still recovering from a serious economic crisis.

Bergoglio has mediated in almost all social or political conflicts in the city; the newly ordained priests are described as "the Bergoglio generation"; and no political or social figure misses requesting a private encounter with him.

EARLY VOCATION

Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital city, Dec. 17, 1936.

From a young age, he knew he would become a priest. Amalia Damonte, who grew up in the pope's neighbourhood, reportedly was briefly the object of his affections.

Damonte, who still lives in the same neighbourhood, has said in interviews that when they were 12, Pope Francis said that, if he could not marry her, he would become a priest.

When the pope was 21, he became gravely ill with severe pneumonia and had his right lung partially removed. The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, has confirmed this, noting that it is "not a handicap" in the pope's life.

He studied and received a master's degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest.

He taught high school literature and psychology for three years before returning to his theological studies. He was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969 and made his perpetual profession as a Jesuit in 1973.

In 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. He was one of three auxiliaries and he kept a low profile. On June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop Feb. 28, 1998.

The new pope is mostly portrayed as a pope for the poor and common people.

But a more complex picture – as a priest, administrator and soccer fanatic – comes from Argentina, where vendors now peddle his pictures and posters, and where Peronists – the political movement founded by former President Juan Peron and his second wife, Eva Peron – have blanketed Buenos Aires with posters proclaiming him one of their own.

He ascended in the Church, something attributed to his force of personality and ability to remember names and faces.

PRODIGIOUS MEMORY

"He has a prodigious memory," said Father Andres Aguerre, Jesuit vice provincial in Argentina. "You tell him your birthday once and he remembers."

In the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis adopted the attitude that the Church belongs in the street. He built chapels and missions in poor areas and sent seminarians to serve them.

He spoke out often against injustice, such as the treatment of migrant workers from neighbouring countries and those lured into the sex trade, and against social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

He criticized the late President Nestor Kirchner and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who succeeded her husband in 2007, and their way of doing politics – by building patronage groups, instead of alleviating poverty, he alleged. They responded by going to other churches instead of the cathedral for important ceremonies.

"They went off to the provinces . . . where there was a more friendly Church," said Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine El Criterio, who has interviewed Pope Francis frequently over the years.

"Here in Buenos Aires, he was a man politically at odds with the government, very much loved by the poor and members of the opposition. . . . But, fundamentally, he's a pastor and political man," Poirier said.

DISCIPLINE AND OBEDIENCE

"Bergoglio is very demanding. . . . He demanded a lot of discipline and obedience. He also considered himself a privileged interpreter of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and this caused controversy," said Poirier.

"Half (of the Jesuits) liked him a lot, but half wanted nothing to do with him."

Gabriel Castelli, a member of the board of directors at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, said the new pope "always had the ability to say what he thinks."

He put a priority on providing attention to his priests. He had a cell phone, but just for priests, who could call for one hour each morning.

Many in the Church speak of his administrative skills in Buenos Aires.

"He's not an intellectual (like Pope Benedict), rather a man of government, with great political and administrative abilities," Poirier said.

He said Pope Francis preferred the shanties to high society; he never dined out or went to parties; he cooked for himself and read voraciously. He especially liked Latin American literature and Fyodor Dostoyevsky novels. He did not use a computer or email and listened to games of his favourite soccer team, San Lorenzo, on the radio.

Barrio de Flores is a working class neighbourhood. The new pope's father was a railway worker, his mother a homemaker. As a youth, the pope studied in public schools, which included technical certification as a chemist.

VISITED WITH PARISHIONERS

At his home parish of St. Joseph, parishioners shared memories.

After Mass, "People would wait outside and he would bless all of them and talk to them," before leaving on public transit, recalled Zaira Sanchez, 72.

He took time for causes, too – such as Fundacion Alameda, which sought support from Pope Francis for its work against the exploitation of migrants working in Argentina. It also works to prevent migrant women from being lured into the sex trade.

Pope Francis embraced the migrants' cause, making public statements and celebrating Mass for the foundation.

Olga Cruz, the foundation's director, recalled him coming at a moment's notice to provide support for women rescued from the sex trade, who were sometimes sheltered in parishes.