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'Humble' Argentine cardinal becomes Pope Francis

© AFP

Video by Nicolas Rushworth

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-03-14

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio on Wednesday became Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff, elected after two days of voting in the Vatican. Known for his simplicity and humility, the Jesuit is the first pope from the Americas.

A conservative theologian known as the “archbishop of the poor”, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is a man of many firsts.

He is the first Jesuit pope and the first to choose Francis as his papal name.

He is also the first Latin American “vicar of Christ” and, as such, the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III in the eighth century, and the third successive non-Italian pontiff – albeit with Italian origins.

The son of Piemontese immigrants with a reputation as “the archbishop of the poor”, Bergoglio is known for his humble lifestyle and pastoral leadership.

He was born in 1936 in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, a city he seldom left thereafter.

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998.

Appointed cardinal in 2001, he won applause for venting against unrestrained capitalism and free-market policies at a time of economic hardship.

Though he is widely believed to have been the runner-up in the previous conclave in 2005, Bergoglio was not among the favourites this time round.

Coming after a papal resignation motivated by fatigue and old age, his surprising election may cause some concern.

Pope Francis is 76, just four years below the threshold for eligibility, and has only one lung, due to a childhood infection.

Orthodox but compassionate

Bergoglio is known for his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-1983 dictatorship.

But he has had a difficult relationship with Argentina’s last two presidents, Nestor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernandez.

In 2010, the future pope was powerless to prevent Argentina from becoming the first Latin American country to legalise gay marriage.

Nor could he stop the Argentine Supreme Court from expanding access to legal abortions in rape cases.

When he claimed that gay adoptions discriminated against children, Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

Though unwaveringly orthodox in his moral views, Bergoglio has also proved to be a compassionate churchman, drawing on the Jesuit tradition of social outreach.

According to Sergio Rubin, author of Bergoglio's biography "El Jesuita", the Argentinian prelate is a “moderate bishop, with a kind of modern vision of the church, but he hasn't made it so visible because he has a great respect for Pope Benedict XVI."

An habitué of the slums around Buenos Aires, Bergoglio has slammed “hypocritical” church leaders for forgetting that Jesus bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

Last September, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, describing it as a form of "rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism."

His own reputation for simplicity – he is said to cook his own meals, prefer public transport and shun the comfort of the archbishop’s palace – has endeared him to many Argentinians.

But his long association with his home country and its various leaders has also proved controversial.

In 2005, a human rights lawyer in Argentina filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests under the country's military regime. Bergoglio has flatly denied the charges.

 (FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-03-13

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