Pope Francis | Biography

Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. His father was a railway worker who immigrated to Argentina from Italy, and his mother was a housewife of Italian origin. Bergoglio had four siblings. 

After earning a secondary school degree as a chemical technician, Bergoglio felt a call to the priesthood as a Jesuit, joining the novitiate in 1958, at the age of 22.

He was ordained a priest on Dec. 13, 1969. In 1973 he made his perpetual vows in the Society of Jesus and the same year was elected Jesuit provincial for Argentina. He would go on to serve as a seminary rector, a pastor, a professor, and a spiritual director.

In 1992 Fr. Bergoglio was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Buenos Aires archdiocese. He became the archdiocese’s coadjutor archbishop in 1997, and succeeded as archbishop the following year. St. John Paul II named Archbishop Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was known for his humble demeanor. He stayed in a modest apartment and took public transit. He also showed a special regard for the poor, whom he frequently visited. 

As president of the Argentine bishops’ conference from 2005 to 2011, Bergoglio attended the Fifth Latin American Episcopal Conference held in Aparecida, Brazil in May 2007.

He was in charge of the drafting of the meeting’s final document, which came to be known as the Aparecida document, recognized as an important guiding document for the Church in Latin America and beyond.

On March 13, 2013, Bergoglio was elected to the papacy, at the age of 76. He was the first Jesuit and the first Latin American to become pope.

Pope Francis took office following the unexpected resignation of Benedict XVI. With few modifications, Francis published a final version of Benedict’s draft encyclical as his first: the 2013 work Lumen fidei.

The early months of the Francis papacy included several surprises, amplified by social media coverage which helped build his unanticipated popularity. 

His unexpected visit to the small Mediterranean Italian island of Lampedusa in July 2013 drew attention to the plight of undocumented African migrants who, at great risk, cross by sea to enter Europe. There, he echoed what has become a theme of his papacy: the criticism of the “globalization of indifference,” an attitude that forgets the sufferings of the marginalized, especially migrants and refugees.

Later, in his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato si’, Francis also lamented a “throwaway culture” which idolizes profit and marginalizes the poor and unemployed. He suggested this mindset requires the elimination of human beings, the poor, the elderly, and the unborn. Laudato si’ also emphasized “care for our common home,” another recurring theme in Francis’ papacy. 

In the first seven years of his pontificate, the pope made over 30 international trips and visited more than 45 countries, including a July 2013 visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, where he offered Mass for an estimated three million pilgrims on Copacabana Beach.

In May 2014 he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between St. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

He visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as several Latin America and African countries in 2015.

Pope Francis visited Cuba and the U.S. in late 2015. During his U.S. visit he canonized Fr. Junipero Serra, a seventeenth-century Franciscan missionary to what is now the state of California. He also attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

In 2016, he traveled to Mexico, Greece, the South Caucasus, Poland, and Sweden. Many of his visits focused on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

The following year, he visited Egypt, Burma, and Bangladesh. His visit to Portugal marked the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition at Fatima, and his trip to Colombia focused on the de-escalation of the armed conflict between the nation’s government and left-wing guerrillas.

In 2018 and 2019 he traveled to Switzerland, the World Meeting of Families in Ireland, the Baltic States, World Youth Day in Panama, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Romania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Thailand, and Japan. 

He also visited the Muslim-majority countries of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. He was the first pope in history to travel to the Arabian peninsula. While there, he signed a joint statement on human fraternity with Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, which formed the basis of future Vatican interreligious initiatives.

During his trip to Peru and Chile in January 2018, Francis sparked an outcry when in comments to a reporter, he defended the then-bishop of Osorno, Chile, Bishop Juan Barros, who had been accused of colluding to cover up the abuse of the notorious abuser priest, Fernando Karadima.  
The following April the pope wrote a letter apologizing to Chile’s bishops for his mistakes in handling the sex abuse crisis in their country. He also invited the bishops to meet with him in Rome, a gathering which ended in all of Chile’s bishops presenting him with their resignations at the same time.

He accepted Bishop Juan Barros’ resignation in June 2018.

In February 2019 the pope hosted an unprecedented Vatican summit to discuss the sex abuse crisis and the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

The four-day gathering included the president’s of the world’s bishops’ conferences and was followed three months later by the pope’s promulgation of “Vos estis lux mundi,” which created policy on sexual abuse allegations made against bishops.

Other major features of Francis’ papacy were the 2019 Synod on the Amazon and 2018 Youth synod. These were followed by the apostolic exhortations Querida Amazonia and Christus vivit.

Pope Francis also held Synods of Bishops on the family in 2014 and 2015. His post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, which was published in 2016, was met with a varied reception and interpretation within the Church.

Its eighth chapter, on accompanying, discerning, and integrating fragility dealt with, among other things, the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried. A footnote in that chapter led to uncertainties about the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to Communion.

Mercy is a prominent theme of Pope Francis’s pontificate. He made changes to the annulment process, aimed at removing some of the financial burden and shortening the process. 

He also declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Church from December 2015 to November 2016.

In April 2018, he released the exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, which praised the “middle-class” of holiness. 

Francis canonized a number of saints, among them his predecessors John Paul II, John XXIII, and Paul VI. 

Soon after his election in 2013, Pope Francis established a committee of cardinals to advise him on reform of the Roman Curia, specifically, the drafting of a new apostolic constitution to replace the 1988 constitution Pastor bonus.

His reform included the consolidation of several dicasteries, the establishment of new offices, and efforts to modernize Vatican financial practices.

He established both the Secretariat for the Economy and the Secretariat for Communications, which was later renamed a dicastery. The Pontifical Councils for the Family and the Laity were suppressed and integrated into the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life; and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development subsumed the suppressed Pontifical Councils Cor Unum and for Health Care Workers, Justice and Peace, and Migrants.

In early 2020, Pope Francis responded to the global coronavirus outbreak by livestreaming and televising his weekly events, such as his daily Mass, Wednesday general audience and Sunday Angelus or Regina coeli, without the presence of the public.

The Vatican’s Holy Week, Triduum, and Easter celebrations were likewise held without a large public presence.

In response to the health emergency, the pope also gave a special address with Eucharistic adoration and an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in an empty St. Peter’s Square on the evening of March 27, 2020.