The Life of Pope Francis/ Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Childhood in a happy Catholic familyGrowing up with the SalesiansThe Grandma Who Stood Up to MussoliniPope Francis and Football

Childhood in a happy Catholic family

Young Mario

Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, the capital and largest city of Argentina,on December 17, 1936. He was baptized by Fr. Enrique Pozzoli, an Italian Salesian priest who was close to the family. Today, Pope Francis often speaks of the importance of Baptism and urges the faithful to remember the date on which they became a Christian.

His father,Mario Jose Francisco Bergoglio, was an Italian immigrant. One of his grandfather’s brothers had started a flooring enterprise in Parana, Argentina that was doing well and the four Bergoglio brothers were putting up a family business.

“They disembarqued from the ‘Julius Caesar’, though they should have sailed on an earlier voyage: with the ‘Princess Malfada’, which sank.” Fr. Jorge wrote. “You cannot imagine how many times I have thanked divine Providence!”

Having worked as an accountant in the Bank of Italy in Turin, Papa Mario, though an only child, had enjoyed being part of Don Bosco’s  “Salesian Family ” in Italy. When he arrived in Buenos Aires in 1929, he went to live with the Salesians in Solis Lane where he was warmly welcomed in typical Salesian fashion. It was there that Mario encountered Fr. Pozzoli who promptly became his confessor.

Photography and other creative activities attracted the youth. Mario settled in to his new life in Buenos Aires and joined the lively group of young men that gathered around Fr. Pozzoli in much the same way the young men in Turin had often surrounded Don Bosco.

Fr. Pozzoli the missionary, confessor, and watchmaker, was also a photographer and much loved by the Sivori family, and most of all by their eldest son, Vincent Sivori, who had a passionate love for photography.

Mario met the Sivori brothers who were part of the Círulos Católicos de Obreros and eventually met Regina Maria Sivori whom he married on December 12, 1935 in San Carlos. Jorge’s Mama devoted herself to raising the family and to giving their five children a healthy religious upbringing.

His grandmother, Dona Rosa Margarita Vasallo de Bergoglio, a great promoter of Catholic Action,greatly inspired young Jorge who often carried with him one of her leaflets entitled “St. Joseph in the life of the maiden, the widow and the bride.”

He recounts one occasion when his grandmother said things that did not please the government and they closed the hall where she was to speak. Undaunted, she spoke out on the street, standing on a table.

“It’s not strange that I speak with affection of the Salesians, “ he wrote, “because my family was nourished spiritually by the Salesians of San Carlos.

“As a child I learned to go to the procession of Mary Help of Christians,” he wrote, “and also to that of Saint Anthony of Mexico Street. When I was at my grandmother’s home, I went to the Oratory of Saint Francis of Sales.

“As a child I had in my hands the Religious Instruction of Father Moret.” Fr Jorge added. “They had taught us to ask for ‘the blessing of Mary Help of Christians’ every time we took leave of a Salesian.”

An economic recession,however, began to take a toll on the flourishing Bergoglio family business. The President of the firm, Jorge’s granduncle, became ill with leukemia and lymphosarcoma and died.

The two events—the recession and the death of Juan Lorenzo—caused the family business to fail. They had to sell everything, from the family chapel in the cemetery to the four storey “Bergoglio Building” where the four brothers lived.

Jorge’s grandparents and his Papa were left with nothing.

Growing up with the Salesians

As a family, the Bergoglios always turned to Fr. Enrique Pozzoli whenever there was a problem, or when they needed help or advice. He had baptized all the children but one, Jorge’s second brother who was born in 1938 when Fr Pozzoli was in Usuahia.

Then in February of 1948, it happened that after Jorge’s Mama had his sister, the fifth and last child, she became very weak and exhausted making it necessary for the three eldest children to board. His sister, the third child, who is today the mother of a Jesuit and of a woman religious, was placed as a boarder at María Auxiliadora with the help of Fr. Pozzoli.

Fr. Pozzoli’s prayers to Mary Help of Christians for “his” boys when they were going through difficult situations did not go unheeded, however, and he was able to introduce the family to a person who lent them 2,000 pesos so that Jorge’s grandparents could set up a store in Barrio Flores. His Papa who had been an accountant at the Bank of Italy, now had to be the delivery man for the family store.

Near the end of 1948, Fr. Pozzoli intervened again so that Jorge and his brother could enter as boarders at the Colegio Wilfrid Barón de los Santos Angeles in Ramón Mejía.

“There I completed sixth grade, in 1949, and my brother fifth and sixth in 1949­ and 1950, ” Pope Francis wrote Fr. Bruno.

The future pope was in Class 6B and won first prize that year in conduct, religion and the Gospel.

Life in any Salesian college is the same anywhere in the world. One only has to visit any Don Bosco school in the Philippines to get a sense of the Salesian Spirit that permeates Don Bosco schools and opens the hearts of the young to God.

Pope Francis writes that the Wilfrid Baron School of the Holy Angels in Ramos Mejia, Buenos Aires, prepared him “for life.” Reflecting on what it was like to attend the school, Pope Francis describes its “Catholic culture”:

School life was a “whole.”  I was immersed in a way of life prepared so that there wouldn’t be time to be lazy.  The day passed as an arrow without time for one to be bored.  I felt myself submerged in a world that, although prepared “artificially” (with pedagogic resources), had nothing artificial about it.  The most natural thing was to go to Mass in the morning, as well as having breakfast, studying, going to lessons, playing during recreation, hearing the “Good night” of the Father Director.

On devotion to Mary

Recourse to Our Lady is essential for life.  It goes from the awareness of having a Mother in heaven that takes care of me to the recitation of the three Hail Marys, or of the Rosary.

On the Good Night talk

One of the key moments of this learning to seek the meaning of things was the “Good night” that the Father Director generally gave. When one or two years later I came to know how Father Isidoro Holowaty died, of how he endured for the sake of mortification so many days of pain in his stomach (he was a nurse) until one Wednesday Father Pozzoli, who had gone there to confess the Salesians, ordered him to see a doctor, well, when I came to know this it seemed to me the most natural thing that a Salesian should die this way, exercising virtue.

On sports

Sports is an essential aspect of life. One played well and a lot. The values that sport teaches (in addition to health) we already knew. In study as in sport the dimension of competition had a certain importance: we were taught to compete well and to compete as Christians.” (Like most South American kids, young Jorge became a fervent fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the classic teams of Argentine fútbol.)

Education in creativity

There was room for hobbies and crafts… Father Lambruschini taught  us to sing, with Father Aviles I learned to build machinery—and so many other things (theater, organization of championships, academic ceremonies, taxidermy, etc.) that channeled hobbies and anxieties.

Reason, religion and loving kindness

How did our educators address crises? They made us feel that we could trust, that they loved us, they were able to listen, they gave us good opportune advice, and they defended us both from rebellion as well as melancholy.”

 The Grandma Who Stood Up to Mussolini

By Ma. Lourdes Ll. Galza

Castor Oil and Live Toads

During the dark days under Benito Mussolini,armed squads in black called the Camicie Nere, or Black shirts, quelled critics of the Fascist regime bytying them to trees, pouring castor oil down their throats and forcing them to eat live toads. 1Most people found it expedient to keep their thoughts to themselves. Political correctness, however, meant compromising principle and one concerned citizen with a conscience could notcompromise God’s truth.

Catholic Courage

Doña Rosa Margherita Vasallo de Bergoglio wasPope Francis’ Nonna  or grandmother. Shehad that special courage born of grace. “Nonna, Doña Rosa Margherita Vasallo de Bergoglio, worked with the newly founded Catholic Action.” The future Pope wrote his friend, Salesian historian Fr. Cayetano Bruno. “Nonna had known Bl. Pier Giorgio Frasatti.”2

Bl. Giorgio was a handsome, fun-loving, young man with a great sense of humor. Born of a wealthy Italian family, he secretly helped the poor. A mountaineer and popular athlete,he was a passionateCatholic social activist who opposed Fascism. He died at the age of 24 and was beatified in 1990 by Pope John Paul II.3

With similar passion, the Pope’s Nonna Rosa gave rousing lectures on Catholic Action. “She lectured everywhere, “ then Fr. Bergoglio explained. “It seems that my grandmother said things that did not suit the policy …Once they closed the hall where she was to speak, and so she spoke out on the street, standing on a table.”4

The Pope’s sister Maria Elena, confiding to Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli added, “Grandmother Rosa was a heroine for us, a very brave lady. I’ll never forget when she told us how in her town, in Italy, she took the pulpit in church to condemn the dictatorship, Mussolini, fascism.”5

“She taught me a lot about faith”

Today, Pope Francis describes his Nonna as the woman who “had the greatest influence” 6 on his life. “It was my grandmother who taught me to pray. She taught me a lot about faith and told me stories about the saints,”6 He said ina radio interview released from Barracas, Buenos Aires.

Tornielli reports that Pope Francis keeps in his breviary a little note from his Nonna Rosa that reads:

“May my grandchildren, to whom I have given the best of my heart, have a long and happy life. But if there are days of pain or illness, or if the loss of a loved one fills them with despair, may they remember that a whisper of a prayer and a look to Mary at the feet of the cross, can be like a drop of balsam on even the deepest and most painful wounds.” 7

1“Life in Fascist Italy – History Learning Site”. Retrieved September 2014 from

2Leon, SDB,  Fr.  Alejandro. Francis and Don Bosco. Quito, Ecuador: Published by CSPP José Ruaro/ CSRFP, 2014.

3“Who Is Pier Giorgio Frassati?” Retrieved September 2014 from the official website for Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. www.frassatiusa.

4Leon, SDB,  Fr.  Alejandro. Francis and Don Bosco. Quito, Ecuador: Published by CSPP José Ruaro/ CSRFP, 2014.

5Tornielli, Andrea. Francis: Pope of a New World. Ignatius Press, Retrieved September 2014 from

6Leon, SDB,  Fr.  Alejandro. Francis and Don Bosco. Quito, Ecuador: Published by CSPP José Ruaro/ CSRFP, 2014.

7Marshall, Dr Taylor.Pope Francis’ Special Note from His Grandmother Rosa”. Retrieved September 2014

 Pope Francis and Football

by Ma. Lourdes LL. Galza

There was a giant team flag waving in the breeze high above the crowd during Pope Francis’ installation mass.  People in the Vaticanlove sports. Some popes have a preference for football. There is a Vatican City league, a Clericus Cup, and the often forgotten fact:Saint John Paul II played soccer as a boy in Poland.

The big question during the World Cup was whose prayers would be heard? Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editorheadlined: “World Cup final: It’s Pope versus Pope.1Pope Benedict XVI, also a football fan, is a fervent supporter of the German team.Pope Francis is a member of the Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro,the club of the “Saints”, which is what fans call the San Lorenzo de Almagro (ARG) Argentine football team.

In 2008, then Cardinal Bergoglio celebrated Mass in the team’s chapel—yes the team has its own chapel—during their centenary celebration. He recalled how theSan Lorenzo de Almagro, led by its star, Rene Pontoni, won the championship in 1946.

He was only ten years old then, and like his father, Mario Bergoglio,  an avid fan of Argentine futbol.

“I remember that as children we went as a family to Gasómetro Stadium, father, mother and kids,” he told Terence  Jeffrey of CNS News.2

The team colors are a permanent reminder of an important mission. “We don’t take our colors from just anywhere,” he said and asked that “Mary Help of Christians never be separated from the Club because She is its mother, given that San Lorenzo began at the St Anthony’s Oratory, under the Virgin Mary’s protection”.

The team wears dark blue and burgundy striped jerseys in honor of Mary Help of Christians.3

“It is natural that I am a fan of San Lorenzo (otherwise something would be missing). Up until recently, I kept a a copy of the  “History of San Lorenzo Club” written by Fr Mazza (I think),”4then Fr. Jorgewrote Salesian historian and friend, Fr. Bruno Cayetano, SDB in 1990. It was Fr. Lorenzo Mazzawho had inspired the original group of boys to organize themselves into the San Lorenzo Club.

The days of dust and glory date back to 1908 when some boys, who called themselves the Los Forzosos del Almagro,kicked a ball around in a street in Buenos Aires and one of them was almost hit by a speeding tram.

A quick-witted Don Bosco priest, Fr Lorenzo Mazza who witnessed the incident, saw it as a sign from heaven and an opportunity. In characteristic Salesian fashion, he immediately made a deal with the boys: attend Sunday mass than play football in the field of the Sant’Antonio Oratory.5

The Sant’Antonio Oratory  was one of Don Bosco’s “festive oratories” or youth centerswhich exist to promote an eleventh commandment: “Run, jump, shout, do anything you want except sin”. Boys kept from bad influences became “good Christians and honest citizens”, many became priests, and some even became saints.

The boys wanted to call their team“San Lorenzo” in honor of the humble priest they had grown to love.Fr. Lorenzo agreed on condition it was in honor of Saint Lorenzo of Rome and Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro was born.

The San Lorenzo de Almagro team joined the Argentine Football Associationin 1914. In 1946, the team was proclaimed the best team in the world after they beat the Spanish and Portuguese national teams.

Today Pope Francis reminds football players that they are role models and encourages sports as a means to promote peace and dialogue.

When San Lorenzo won the championship was it a miracle? No, Pope Francis says. It was not a miracle. He had promised CNN’s Daniel Burke not to pray for them just to keep things fair and even; but from his smile, well, you could say he is happy that they won.

1Daniel Burke.World Cup final: It’s Pope versus Pope”.  CNN Belief Blog – Blogs. Retrieved from

2Terence P.   Jeffrey.“Pope Tells Football Players: ‘You Are a Role Model for Better or For Worse’ ”. CNS News, August 22, 2013 – 5:33 PM. Retrieved from

3“Argentina – Pope Francis, sports aficionado and devoted to Mary Help of Christians”. ANS Agenzia Info Salesiana. Published 14/03/2013. Retrieved from 

4Fr.  Alejandro Leon, SDB.Special collaboration: Fr. Juan Bottasso, SDB.Francis and Don Bosco. Quito, Ecuador: Published by CSPP José Ruaro/ CSRFP, 2014. Page 26.

5“Lorenzo Massa”. Retrieved from