Pope Francis appears for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this March 13, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Peggy DeKeyser
Pope Francis is a pontiff of firsts, to be sure. First pope from the Americas, he is also the first Jesuit, the first non-European since Gregory III, a Syrian, in 741, and the first from south of the equator.
Five years ago, on March 13, 2013, white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signifying his election to the papacy by a two-thirds majority of cardinal electors. To mark his fifth anniversary as Holy Father, let’s take a look at some accomplishments and interesting facts about Pope Francis.
His life story
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrant parents, he is one of five siblings. He completed studies in chemistry and in the humanities, and holds degrees in philosophy and theology from Colegio of San José. He completed doctoral studies in Germany in 1986, and worked in a number of ordinary jobs to help pay for his education.
Pope Francis entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1958 and, after teaching at the secondary and post-secondary levels, was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 13, 1969. He studied in Spain, and in 1973 made his final profession of vows with the Jesuits. On May 27, 1992, he was ordained a bishop and became Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. His episcopal motto, miserando atque eligendo, means “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.” He continues to employ this motto as pope.
In June 1997, he was named Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in Feb. 1998, he became archbishop, succeeding Cardinal Antonio Quarracino when the cardinal died.
Pope John Paul II created him Cardinal in the Consistory of Feb. 21, 2001. Instead of inviting well-wishers to Rome to celebrate his elevation to cardinal, he requested that people donate to the poor what they would have spent on the journey.
Prior to his election as pope, Francis served as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Throughout his life as priest, bishop, cardinal and pope, Francis has lived a simple life and embraced austerity. Until he became pope, he always flew coach; now he travels in “Shepherd One”. In Buenos Aires, he was a frequent bus rider. Now, rather than live in the Papal apartments, he lives in the Vatican guesthouse, where he often cooks his own meals.
Pope Francis is a prolific writer, having authored several books (Meditaciones Para Religiosos, 1982; Reflexiones Sobre La Vida Apostólica, 1992; and Reflexiones De Esperanza, 1992) while he was grand chancellor of the Catholic University of Argentina.
As pontiff, he is also the author of:
Encyclicals: Lumen Fidei (June 29, 2013) and Laudato si’ (May 24, 2015)
Apostolic Exhortations: Amoris laetitia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhoration on love in the family (March 19, 2016) and Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World (Nov. 24, 2013)
Apostolic letters, motu proprios and bulls: More than 20. A motu proprio is a letter or instruction that the pope has issued “on his personal initiation” or “on his own accord.” A papal bull is an official letter or document. The name bull comes from the metal seal, or bulla, traditionally attached to the document. Originally issued by popes for simple public communication, since the 15th century, papal bulls have only been used for formal or solemn occasions.
Francis, the world traveler
To date, Pope Francis has visited 30 countries on five continents, not counting visits outside the Vatican (city-state) to locations within Italy. Within the next year, he is scheduled to visit Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, India, Romania, and Poland. He also has pending visits to 29 additional countries, including Australia, which will make the sixth continent he’ll have visited.
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Did you know?
- Pope Francis had lung surgery as a teen, and today has only one functioning lung. In spite of that, he is in excellent health at 81 years old.
- He is multi-lingual, speaking Spanish, Latin and Italian fluently, and understands and speaks some German, French, Portuguese, English and Ukranian.
- He is the only pope to ever address a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
- A true Argentinian, Pope Francis loves the tango. And wine.
- He loves the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
- In the 1960s, he taught literature, philosophy, psychology, and theology at several high schools in Argentina.
- He hasn’t watched television since 1990, and relies on the Swiss Guard to keep him up to date on soccer scores from his beloved San Lorenzo team from Argentina.
- He misses the opportunity to walk through the city to a favorite pizzeria to enjoy a slice, saying delivery just isn’t the same.
- Rumor has it that he makes awesome paella.
- When a small child came onto the stage to hug him during an important Mass, Pope Francis would not let security remove the child. Instead, the pope welcomed the child, and offered the child a seat in a chair.
- Pope Francis often leaves the Vatican at night to help the homeless.
- He auctioned his Harley Davidson to benefit the homeless.
- The Pope obliges everyone who wants him in their selfies!
- Pope Francis opts for simple – often used – cars to travel around, even on major foreign visits, instead of limousines.
- He celebrated Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper in the chapel of a prison and kissed the feet of the prisoners as he washed them.
- He was the first major leader of a world religion to appear on Rolling Stone magazine’s cover.
- Writing of the pros and cons of the digital age, and its implications for Catholics when interacting with people from different faiths and backgrounds, Pope Francis referred to the internet as a “gift from God.”
- He says that Catholic beliefs are consistent with evolution and the Big Bang theory.
Pope Francis quotes
- “And here’s the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst.”
- “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.
- “No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness.”
- “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”
- “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
- “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
- “Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
- “Situations can change; people can change. Be the first to seek to bring good. Do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it with good.”
- “Where there is truth, there is also light, but don’t confuse light with the flash.”
- “To be faithful, to be creative, we need to be able to change. To change! And why must I change? So that I can adapt to the situations in which I must proclaim the Gospel. To stay close to God, we need to know how to set out; we must not be afraid to set out.”