Pope Francis is the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. His appointment to the papacy in 2013 was ground-breaking in several ways. He became the first pope from the Americas, the first from the Western Hemisphere, the first from outside of Europe in over 1,300 years and the first from the religious order known as the Jesuits (Society of Jesus).
Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 17th December 1936. He was born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was the son of Italian immigrants. His father was an accountant whilst his mother was dedicated to raising Bergoglio, along with his four other siblings.
At the age of 21, Bergoglio had part of his lung removed after a serious bout of pneumonia. He graduated as a chemical technician and worked briefly in the food-processing industry. The career was short-lived as Bergoglio felt compelled to join the church.
Path to the priesthood
His training began at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto and after three years, on 11th March 1958, he joined the Jesuits. He then travelled to Santiago, Chile to study humanities before returning to Argentina to graduate with a degree in philosophy from Colegio de San José in San Miguel.
He then taught psychology and literature at Immaculate Conception College in Santa Fé from 1964 to 1965, before moving to Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires to teach the same courses.
Between 1967 and 1970, he continued his studies at Colegio of San José, where he read and obtained a degree in theology. On 13th December 1969, Bergoglio was ordained a priest by Archbishop Ramón José Castellano. In 1970, he went to Spain to carry on with his training.
Road to the Papacy
On 31st July 1973, Bergoglio was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina. He carried out this role for the next six years, after which he returned to Colegio of San José to serve as Rector until March 1986. He then travelled to Germany to continue his doctoral thesis in theology.
Then, in May 1992, Bergoglio was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires before becoming archbishop of the city in February 1998. Three years later, he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paull II, giving him the title of Roberto Bellarmino.
After the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013 due to health concerns, a papal conclave voted Bergoglio as his successor on 13th March. Bergoglio adopted the papal name of Francis in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, a man who led a humble life dedicated to the poor.
Pope Francis’ reputation as a humble man with a deep concern for the poor was well established before his time as pope began.
‘We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.’
These steadfast beliefs continued into Pope Francis’ papacy as he refused to live in the luxurious papal accommodations in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. These had been used by the previous popes spanning back over a century. Instead, Francis chose to reside in a small suite in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a building adjacent to the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
It was clear for the world to see that Pope Francis was also a more progressive pope than his predecessors, speaking out on social issues as well as sexual ethics that offered a different perspective on normal Catholic doctrine.
'If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn't marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society.’
An outspoken voice against the misuse of political power and unchecked capitalism, Pope Francis also advocates taking action on climate change. He believes environmental degradation is intrinsically linked with human greed and in 2015, he released the first encyclical (letter) of his papacy titled ‘Laudato si’ (‘Praise be to you’).
In it, he wrote: 'If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.’
Continuing on the theme of greed, Pope Francis has frequently warned against the dangers of a selfish world.
‘When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears.’
He echoed these sentiments when calling for peace in Syria in 2013. He’s continued to spread the message that self-interest hardens the heart, believing it’s often found at the centre of human conflict.
One of the biggest challenges Pope Francis has had to address has been reports of sexual abuse within the church. In 2019, he convened a four-day summit in Vatican City on the issue. Around 190 church leaders from around the world attended to discuss the long-standing problem of clergy sexual abuse.
In December 2013, Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time magazine and the following year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, although he did not win this accolade.
Now aged 86, the Pope's health has been a focus of concern, heightened by a recent visit to the hospital in March 2023. He was admitted after suffering from breathing difficulties, a worrying problem considering he’s missing part of one lung after that bout of pneumonia aged 21.
He was diagnosed with a respiratory infection and bronchitis and administered with antibiotics. After responding well to the treatment, Pope Francis was discharged on 1st April and a day later resumed his papal duties by presiding over a Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.