SEATTLE — The first Latin American head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is one of the world’s biggest humanitarians and one of the most powerful individuals on Earth. He has garnered widespread attention for his work with refugees, environmental advocacy, promoting social equality and other poverty alleviation efforts.
Before rising to the highest and most prestigious rank of the Church, Pope Francis was the archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. He was also cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina from 2001 to 2013, and president of the Bishop’s Conference of Argentina between 2005 and 2011.
Pope Francis’s childhood played a pivotal role in paving the way for many of the successes he achieved later in life. Consequently, the following facts chronicle the early life and experiences of the 266th Pope.
10 Facts About Pope Francis’s Childhood
- Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, Pope Francis was the oldest of five children and was born in the neighborhood of Flores in Buenos Aires to a family of Italian origin.
- Pope Francis’s childhood was heavily influenced by his upbringing in Buenos Aires as well as his Italian heritage. His father, an immigrant from Piedmont, arrived in the 1920s, while his mother was born in Argentina but was the daughter of Italian immigrants from Piedmont. During his childhood, he became fluent in both Italian and Spanish.
- Leading a reasonably modest and humble lifestyle himself, Bergoglio understood the plight of different social groups and was socially conscious from a very young age due to his environment and upbringing.
- From an early age, Bergoglio’s parents imparted good values to their children, such as discipline. For instance, Bergoglio and his siblings always had to clean their plates at dinner time and try their best to avoid wasting food.
- Through a variety of experiences, Bergoglio grew familiar with different walks of life in Argentina. He worked as a student, as a bouncer at a club, as a janitor and even as a laboratory technician after receiving his diploma.
- Given the political atmosphere of Argentina at the time, the young Bergoglio was captivated by Juan and Eva Peron and the rise of Peronism in Argentina. These ideals had a profound impact on an impressionable Bergoglio. Peronism contributed to a majority of the social and political reform Argentina witnessed at that time, particularly the advancement and empowerment of many working-class individuals and rural sectors, as well as successes in redistribution of income.
- The true picture of Pope Francis’s childhood is embedded in the cultural wave he experienced growing up in Argentina as a young boy. There was a major revival in society as social classes grew more unified and the working classes triumphed in a new and renewed economic atmosphere. Consequently, Bergoglio was fascinated by the Jewish community around him and loved literature and watching local plays in his town.
- According to his sister, Bergoglio was a natural born scholar and always loved to study. As a result, he was interested in a wide array of subjects, from philosophy and psychology to the natural sciences. His life philosophy revolved around moderation, as he never allowed himself to indulge too much, but was still willing to keep an open mind to pursue new endeavors and new experiences.
- As a major part of Pope Francis’s childhood was also largely influenced by his love of science, he learned to view ideas with more rationality and objectivity. Upon graduation, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, and a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires.
- After an epiphanic moment, Bergoglio was inspired to take up seminary studies at Villa Devoto in Buenos Aires at the age of 21. Yet, he was only ordained much later, at age 33 in 1969. Shortly after this, he paid a short visit to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage.
Overall, Pope Francis’s childhood enabled him to take on many of the challenges he pursued later in his life and was a fitting precursor to his ascension in the ranks of the Catholic Church. The initial parts of his remarkable journey will continue to remain a very vital part of his legacy.
– Shivani Ekkanath