If at first he seemed a stranger, in a matter of minutes Jorge Mario Bergoglio became more like an old friend.
Born and raised in a middle-class suburb of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario grew up with four siblings. His parents, Mario, a railway worker, and Regina Maria, a housewife, were of Italian descent. He began his career as a chemist, but soon switched course to the seminary. An intellectual, he taught literature, philosophy and theological studies in Argentina. He furthered his own studies in Germany. He wasn`t ordained a priest until age 33. Then Pope John Paul II named him assistant bishop in Buenos Aires. Five years later, archbishop with his elevation to cardinal in 2001.
But as he rose to the top, his lifestyle remained firmly grounded. Instead of living in the bishop’s luxury residence, he chose a simple apartment, where he cooked his own meals and navigated the city using public transportation.
His statements on moral and social issues have been clear. A conservative. He opposes gay marriage, abortion, same sex adoption and birth control. An unwavering advocate for social justice, he’s devoted much of his life to the impoverished, shining a constant light on those less fortunate.
Bergoglio’s story includes a dark chapter in Argentina’s history. Up to 30,000 people perished in the violence and power struggle. Bergoglio was then the highest ranking Jesuit. Under his watch, two priests working with the poor in the slums of Buenos Aires activity deemed suspicious by the dictatorship, asked Bergoglio for protection. They were ultimately rounded up, tortured, shackled and held for five months. After their release, they questioned Bergoglio’s actions or inactions. How much or how little Bergoglio did to stand up to the dictatorship remains unclear. But according to his biographer, Sergio Rubin, Bergoglio said he did work behind the scenes for the priests release, and helped shelter others in danger during the dictatorship.
Bergoglio emerged as an ambassador of sorts, reaching out to other religions. Just days into his papacy, he mingled with a diverse group of religious leaders, pledging friendship and respect among men and women of different faiths.