Pope Francis interview: When in Rome
An extract from Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio
Pope Francis has defied expectations. He has not behaved as we expect popes to behave, but carries his own bags and shunned the Popemobile in favour of buses. He has not talked as we expect popes to talk, but reached out to women, gay people and unbelievers. He is reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and the Vatican bank. As Paul Vallely said in Reform (“A new road for Rome”, December 2013/January 2014), quoting a cardinal: He “plays for the same team. But he kicks the ball in an entirely different direction.”
The following interview is an edited extract of his intimate, warm and charming conversations with the Argentinian journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, while he was still known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, which were published in Argentina in 2010. The book is published in Britain under the title Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013).
Why did your family set sail from Italy for Argentina in 1929?
My grandparents wanted to go to Argentina to be near their siblings. Three of my grandfather’s brothers had been here since 1922 and started a paving business in Paraná. They built the four-storey Bergoglio palazzo, the first building in the city to have an elevator. The brothers lived one to a floor.
But the crisis of 1932 left them penniless; they were even forced to sell off the family tomb. My grandfather asked for a 2,000-peso loan and bought a warehouse. My father, who was an accountant and worked on the administrative side of the company, helped him out by distributing merchandise until he found work at another company. They started over from scratch with the same optimism with which they began. I think that testifies to their strength of character.
How much nostalgia did your elders feel?
I never detected a shred of nostalgia in my father, which meant he must have felt it, since he denied it for some reason. For example, while he never spoke to me in Piedmontese, he did with my grandparents. It was something he kept under wraps, something he’d left behind; he preferred to look to the future. It was as if, over here, he had no wish to talk about back home, although he would with my grandparents.
How did your parents first meet?
They met at Mass in 1934, in the San Antonio chapel in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Almagro, where they lived. They got married the following year. She was the daughter of a Piedmontese woman and an Argentine descended from Genoese people.
I recall one of those great-uncles very well; he was a rascally old man, and he taught us to sing some rather risque ditties in the Genoese dialect. That explains why the only things I can say in Genoese do not bear repeating.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to be a priest?
I told my father first, and he took it very well. More than well – he was happy. The only thing he did was ask me if I was absolutely certain about my decision. He later told my mother, who, being a good mother, already had an inkling. But her reaction was different. “I don’t know, I don’t see you as … You should wait a bit … You’re the eldest … Keep working … Finish university,” she said to me. The truth is, my mother was extremely upset….
This is an extract from the March 2015 edition of Reform.