In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope. This has not changed his self-image as a priest. He still speaks directly to the individual – as he once did in the slums of Buenos Aires.
It began on 21. September 1953. For Jorge Mario Bergoglio, no day like any other. He should decide his future. Jorge wanted to celebrate the "Day of the Student" with his friends in Buenos Aires. But first he began the day with a visit to the church of San Jose. There he met a priest he had never seen before – an encounter that changed his life and which he still remembers years later.
Father Duarte impressed the nearly 17-year-old with the deep spirituality he radiated. So Jorge decided to go to confession with him. This confessional was different from all the others. It made him realize his spiritual vocation, Bergoglio later reported.
Confession changed lives
"Something strange happened to me in that confession. I don't know what it was, but it changed my life," he recalled more than half a century later. "It was the surprise, the intemperate astonishment of a real encounter. I realized that I was expected," he recounts in the interview volume "Pope Francis – My Life, My Path."
The planned meeting with friends, the Student Day celebration, all that no longer counted for Bergoglio. Instead, he returned home with the goal of becoming a priest. Bergoglio finishes school and training as a chemical technician and enters the Jesuit order in 1958.
Priestly ordination in Buenos Aires
On 13. December 1969, shortly before his 33. On his 70th birthday and 16 years after his vocation experience, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was consecrated in Buenos Aires. Being a priest means for him from the beginning to be close to God and close to the people. Even much later, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he goes regularly to the poor neighborhoods like a simple street priest.
It is again a 13. the month that changed his life for a long time: On 13. March 2013, Cardinal Bergoglio became the 265th pope at the age of 76. Successor of St. Peter elected. This did not change his view of the priesthood. He also lives it as Pope Francis: going to the margins, he advises Christians – and does it himself. 2019, the year of his 50th birthday. For example, on the occasion of his 50th anniversary as a priest, he was the first Catholic head of the church to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
"We clergy are in danger of succumbing to the temptation to be administrators rather than shepherds," he said even as a cardinal. A homily by Pope Francis on a 2019 priestly ordination sounds very similar: "Always have before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek and save that which was lost," he gives the new priests along the way. Likewise, he emphasizes the importance of confession and is available as a confessor from time to time, even as pope.
Pope and priest
Francis is pope, but above all he is priest. This summer, he addressed a lengthy letter to all his "confreres in the priesthood" in which he also addresses the abuse crisis in the church under the heading of "pain. "Recently, we have been able to hear more clearly the often silent or silenced cry of our brothers and sisters who have been victims of abuse of power, conscience or sex by ordained ministers," it says.
He also repeatedly warns against abuse of power and clericalism elsewhere. At the same time, Francis gives advice on how to overcome crises of vocation. Thus, in his letter to priests, he advises them to remember and be grateful for their vocation, especially in difficult moments.
His own experience still seems very present to today's pope, as his vivid descriptions show. There are no details from the Vatican on how the 82-year-old will celebrate his golden jubilee as a priest. Perhaps, however, he remembers that 21. September, where his journey began. And very likely Francis will ask to pray for him – as he always did even as a priest.