- Title: ARGENTINA FILE: The first Latin American pope had humble beginnings in Argentina
- Date: 14th March 2013
- Summary: PHOTO OF THE NEW POPE AND FAITHFUL PRAYING AND SINGING
- Embargoed: 29th March 2013 12:00
- Location: Argentina
- Country: Argentina
- Topics: People,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA4HK303FIWD2DCR4MD5Q8M4158
- Story Text: The first Latin American pope, Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, was born and raised in the Buenos Aires district of Flores, a now comfortable, upper middle class district of the capital.
He was the son of an Italian immigrant railway worker and a housewife mother, with two sisters and two brothers.
Friends from his childhood still remember him with fondness. The day after Bergoglio became Pope Francis, one woman who lived in the same neighbourhood told reporters she had a close relationship with the new pontiff during their childhood.
"One day, he sent me a letter telling me that he was going to build me a house, that we would get married. And, unfortunately, my mother took the letter. I was looking all over for it and she said, 'So you're receiving letters from him."
But even then, she said, the priesthood was in his sights.
"He said to me, 'If I don't marry you, I'll become a priest."
The young Bergoglio attended kindergarten and took first communion at this church, Our Lady of Mercy, and continued to visit as an adult, often holding mass at the parish. One of the teachers at the church remembers the adult Bergoglio as a simple man - a trait that has won him many admirers.
"The Pope, Bergoglio, loved to walk down the street, to go on the train, be with all the people, listen to them, listen to them, know what they're doing. And people also liked very much to see him, because they could sense him close to them, because he had words for them," said nun, Sister Rosita Blanco.
Pope Francis is known for his strong social conscience - a modest man who declined the archbishop's luxurious residence to live in a simple apartment and travelled the city by bus and metro, flying economy class to Rome.
Bergoglio became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies. Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years. He held several academic posts and pursued further study in Germany. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998.
At the Church of the Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes in Flores, another church where Bergoglio held mass on a regular basis, one priest spoke about the new pope's views, saying he did not expect Pope Francis to suddenly change on key issues like abortion.
"There are things that come from the gospel and neither Bergoglio nor anyone from the Church are going to change that. For example, abortion, it's so basic that it goes against the dignity of the human being. He's a man of dialogue; he is open - notice his relationship with Judaism, with Islam -so he's very open, but his response will be the gospel," said Father Raul Laurencena.
In the Vatican, Pope Francis is expected to maintain the Church's strong conservative stand on issues of sexual morality but add the strong social conscience he has shown in Argentina.
While his selection was greeted with choruses of cheers and tears from the Catholic faithful, his sister, Maria Elena Bergoglio, did not share in the joy, saying she worried about her brother.
"(JOURNALIST ASKING: Did you want your brother to be Pope?) No. When I met (Pope) John Paul II, when the new cardinals introduced their families to the Pope, I kneeled to kiss his ring, I looked up and saw his gaze, so full of love but, at the same time, of infinite loneliness. My brother's gaze reflects love (OVER PHOTOGRAPH OF POPE BERGOGLIO), but I didn't want it to reflect loneliness," said Maria Elena Bergoglio, the Pope's sister.
But the Pope's interests do not lie solely in the religious sphere - like any self-respecting Argentine, he's a keen soccer fan, following San Lorenzo, a top club.
The club posted a picture on its website on Wednesday that showed a smiling Bergoglio lifting up the club's colours.
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