A Philadelphia Inquirer Best Book of the Year
A biography of Pope Francis that describes how this revolutionary thinker will use the power of his position to challenge and redirect one of the world's most formidable religions
Based on extensive interviews in Argentina and years of study of the Catholic Church, this biography provides never-before-explained context on how one man's ambitious program began-and how it will likely end-through an investigation of Francis's youth growing up in Buenos Aires and the dramatic events during the Perón era that shaped his beliefs; his ongoing conflicts and disillusionment with the ensuing doctrines of an authoritarian and militaristic government in the 1970s; how his Jesuit training in Argentina and Chile gave him a unique understanding and advocacy for a "Church of the Poor"; and his rise from cardinal to the papacy.
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About the Author
Austen Ivereigh is a British writer, journalist, and commentator on religious and political affairs who holds a PhD from Oxford University. His work appears regularly in the Jesuit magazine America and in many other periodicals. He is well known on British media, especially on the BBC, Sky, ITV and Al-Jazeera, as a Catholic commentator.
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Far Away and Long Ago
The first pope born of immigrants in the New World chose for his debut journey outside Rome a small Italian island on whose stunning beaches thousands of bloated bodies had over the years turned up with the tide. Francis had learned from newspaper reports soon after his March 13, 2013, election that more than twenty-five thousand North Africans had lost their lives this way — far more than the six thousand who have died in the US desert crossing from Mexico. Who knew? Appalled that few seemed aware or to care, he opted to make Lampedusa, 180 miles off the coast of Africa, his first papal visit — to the peripheries of Europe. There, on July 8, he wept for the dead and made migration a pro-life issue.
The Mass he celebrated on the island's sports field was a penitential Eucharist, one that begged forgiveness. During the homily he took God's famous question to Cain in Genesis — Where is your brother? — and asked: "Who is responsible for this blood?" Speaking from an altar made of the wood of one of the capsized rafts, clinging to his white skullcap in the wind, he said he was reminded of a character called L'Innominato in Alessandro Manzoni's novel The Betrothed: a tyrant who is nameless and faceless. Then he switched to Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan, likening "us"— he always included himself — to the Levite and the priest who pass by on the other side: "We see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: 'poor soul ...!', and then go on our way," he ventured. But the real sting was in his denunciation of what he called a "culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people." It caused people to live now in "soap bubbles." Thus, he said, we have "globalized indifference."
The new pope had come to afflict the comfortable. He had linked those who lived well to the penniless migrants who died at sea. But he knew guilt alone was no good.
Francis was a member of the Society of Jesus, and while he had long been a bishop and dispensed from his Jesuit vows, he continued to put "SJ" after his name. He was deeply imbued with the spirituality of the Society's founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, creator of the famous Spiritual Exercises, who had urged people in prayer to beg the Holy Spirit (or, as he put it, "to ask for the grace") to feel what was needed — delight at seeing Jesus, say; or awe at the sight of the crowds; or sadness at the foot of the Cross. Now, in Lampedusa, the first Jesuit pope led the world on a spiritual exercise, urging anyone listening to "ask for the grace to cry for our indifference, to cry for the cruelty in the world, that is in us, that is in those who anonymously make decisions that produce dramas like these." He was inviting the world to feel, because unless the heart was in play, nothing would change.
Suddenly Lampedusa, and the tragedy that it symbolized, appeared on the lips of news readers, who explained how unstable boats overpacked by human traffickers often capsized in the crossings, and how vehicles of hope turned into floating death traps. A result of sorts came three months after the pope's visit, when 366 Somalis and Eritreans died after a fire broke out on their boat close to Lampedusa. The world for once sat up and took note. A year later, it was still news when divers found the ship, with the bodies still in the wreckage, huddled together at the bottom of the sea.
Francis, arriving in Assisi the day after the boat fire, declared a "day of tears" for the victims. Politicians and newspaper editors, sensing a new unease, began to say that maybe immigration policy wasn't just about how to keep people out; maybe it should also be about how to bring people in. A year later, the European Union created a new agency, Frontex, whose ships and helicopters would rescue migrants in peril. Francis had broken a soap bubble.
Later that year he went to another island on the peripheries of Europe, celebrating Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria in Sardinia, which had given its name to the Argentine capital. There he spoke to jobless miners, telling them that he knew what it was like to suffer from financial crisis because his parents lived through the world depression and had often spoken of it. He had learned that "where there is no work, there is no dignity," he told them, adding that it was an "economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its center an idol which is called money."
Migration and jobs: these were the issues with which he began his papacy, the issues the poor cared about.
He knew what it took to leave one land for another, "that fortitude, as well as the great pain that comes from being uprooted," as he once put it, speaking of his grandmother Rosa. Francis was born to an American nation forged from millions of similar deracinations. Nostalgia — from the Greek words nostos and alga, a yearning to return to the place — ran in his veins. When we lose it, he said in 2010, we abandon our elderly: caring for our old people means honoring our past, the place we come from.
On Lampedusa he had gone out in a boat and laid a floral wreath in the sea. There was a reason why the fate of the migrants struck him, as he said in his homily on the island, "like a painful thorn in my heart." Maybe they reminded him of the time many years before he was born when five hundred passengers, almost all in steerage class, drowned off the northeast coast of Brazil.
It was October 1927 when the Italian passenger ship en route to Buenos Aires went down after a cracked propeller shaft damaged the hull. The Principessa Mafalda was among the fastest and most luxurious ships of her day, the transport of choice for celebrities such as the Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel. It was Italy's Titanic, a disaster of human arrogance and incompetence.
Jorge Mario's grandparents, Giovanni Angelo Bergoglio and Rosa Margarita Vasallo di Bergoglio, together with their only son, Francis's father, Mario, had brought steerage-class tickets on that ship. But because of bureaucratic snags, they had to return the tickets, and wouldn't depart from Genova until January 29, 1929.
Their lucky escape was part of Bergoglio family lore.
* * *
In emigrating to Argentina, the Bergoglios were following a path taken by hundreds of thousands of Italians before them.
According to the old Latin-American joke, while Mexicans are descended from Aztecs and Peruvians from Incas, Argentines are descended from boats. In the period of mass emigration to Argentina, between 1880 and 1930, so many boats came from Italy that the writer Jorge Luis Borges used to declare playfully that he couldn't be a pure Argentine because he had no Italian blood. A glance at the Buenos Aires telephone directory tells the same story — as does a list of its cardinal archbishops in the twentieth century. Only one (Aramburu) was of Spanish extraction; the others — Copello, Caggiano, Quarracino, Bergoglio — were all tanos, as they are known in Argentine slang. The Italians gave Argentine cities not just trattorias, pizzas, exquisite gelato, and the custom of ñoquis (gnocchi) on the last Friday of each month, but bequeathed to Argentines an instantly recognizable musicality of speech along with those famously emphatic arm gestures.
As immigrants usually do, the newcomers were joining relatives. Giovanni Angelo Bergoglio's three brothers had done well in Paraná since arriving seven years earlier in that thriving river port upstream from Buenos Aires. From the profits of their paving company, the future pope's great-uncles had raised an impressive four-story residence with a pretty turret, the only one in town with an elevator. The family nicknamed it the Palazzo Bergoglio.
For Giovanni Angelo and Rosa, it was the second major move in a few years. They had married and raised their only child in the town of Portacamaro — where Bergoglio is quite a common surname — in Asti, in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. They were of peasant stock but, like many at the time, were moving into the middle class by educating their offspring. In 1920, they had moved thirty-four miles west to Turin, where the coffee shop they ran just about covered the son's education. The future pope's father, Mario, their only son, born in 1908, was a ragionere, an accountant who worked in the Banca di Italia.
When, after a five-week crossing, the Bergoglios disembarked in Buenos Aires in January 1928, the country's model of export-led growth, which had made it the world's eighth-largest economy, more akin to that of Canada and Australia than Latin America, was about to come to an end. The Wall Street Crash the following year, which triggered the Great Depression, would eventually leave them penniless, forcing yet another fresh start. That recession, and the world war that followed a decade later, would change Argentina's place in the world, triggering a new turbulence in its economy and politics.
But as they stepped from the Giulio Cesare into the torrid heat of mid-summer Buenos Aires, that new horizon was still invisible to Mario's parents. Rosa clung to her fox-fur coat as if it were winter, for sewed into its lining were the proceeds from the Turin coffee shop. The Bergoglios barely had time to take in the great avenues and stately buildings of belle époque Buenos Aires, the "Paris of South America," before making haste upriver to a new life in Entre Ríos.
* * *
Although Argentina had become independent from Spain back in 1816, for many decades afterward it was a nation-state only on paper. In the absence of a central authority, the idea of a united nation governed from Buenos Aires by lawyers and merchants — the ambition of the so-called unitarians — provoked only chaos. From the 1830s to the 1860s the country was a confederation of self-governing provinces ruled by caudillos, cattle ranchers with armies of cowherds or gauchos. The greatest of these caudillos were Juan Manuel de Rosas in the province of Buenos Aires, Estanislao López in Santa Fe, and Facundo Quiroga in La Rioja. Their immense cattle and sheep estancias, some of which were as large as European nations, contained at the time most of the nation's power and wealth. Of these three the most successful, most enduring, and wealthiest was Rosas, the "restorer of the laws," who sat astride the period 1835 to 1852 like a creole Napoleon. Despite a fearsome reputation as a disciplinarian, he was a well-read, accomplished manager and a pragmatic leader, whose political strength lay in his close rapport with the gauchos. He understood their needs and their culture, and the importance of discerning the right moment to act. Later, Bergoglio would deduce from a letter Rosas wrote to Quiroga his own principles of good government, not least that "reality is superior to the idea."
Only with the defeat of Rosas in 1852 — improbably, the Tiger of the Pampas retired with his wife to a cottage in Southampton, England — were the architects of the liberal project free to reverse that principle. What followed was the attempt to graft a new idea of a nation, one that was modern, liberal, enlightened, and cosmopolitan, onto the rootstock of a Spanish Catholic colony.
The emerging export economy was shifting the power and wealth to the cities, where the unitarian lawyers and merchants reigned. Yet, despite agreeing to a national constitution, what followed were more years of caudillo uprisings against the central government, until, in the 1870s, the War of the Triple Alliance against Argentina's neighbor Paraguay helped to settle the question. The national army, which returned victorious from that conflict, could now begin to impose the will of the state.
Schools and railways were built, and immigrants began to arrive. It was President Domingo F. Sarmiento's ambition to Europeanize Argentina. He dreamed of north European Protestants filling Argentina's empty spaces, consigning the so-called barbarism of the caudillos and the gauchos to the past, and inaugurating a civilization of modernity and progress, with Argentina increasingly absorbed into the international economy. The lodestars in this project — economically, politically, and culturally — were Britain and France; travel in their direction, signposted progress, would lead liberal Argentina out of its backward Hispanic, colonial, mixed-race past.
It is in this clash between modernity and the past, between the foreign and the national, the old and the new, that the Argentine culture wars of the twentieth century have their genesis.
Argentina's mostly creole — that is, Spaniards born in Latin America — ruling class had a mentality not so different from the Jeffersons and Washingtons in the United States. But the religion of the Argentine liberal elite was not Deism or Unitarianism but Freemasonry, which gave its adherents an institutional base to rival the Catholic Church. Theirs was a mentality shaped by Social Darwinist ideas about science and the superiority of white (preferably Protestant) culture. Sarmiento and other late-nineteenth-century presidents were disappointed that the migrants who came were mostly Italians and Spaniards, rather than Swiss or Germans; and they saw the defeat of the savages of the plains as an inevitable triumph of racial progress.
In this enlightened, liberal view, the Catholic Church — and all religion — was a thing of the past, an affront to reason, the creed of the mixed-race, rural world that modern Argentina sought to leave behind. But they didn't want to eradicate the Church, only to control it. The population was not ready for too much scientific progress, said the main thinker behind the 1853 Constitution, Juan Alberdi, and in the meantime the divine sanction of religious morality "is the most powerful mechanism available for moralizing and civilizing our people."
Just as, in the United States, the world of the frontier cowboy was romanticized just at the moment it was disappearing, in 1870s Argentina stories of gaucho life in the pampas began to be popular. José Hernández's epic poem El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a favorite of Bergoglio's and considered the defining Argentine classic, is both a protest at the mistreatment of the rural poor at the hands of landowners and army officials, and a celebration of a way of life vanishing under the onslaught of barbed wire and foreigners. As Fierro complains of the Italian immigrants, "I'd like to know why the Government / enlists that gringo crew / And what they think they're good for here? / They can't mount a horse or rope a steer, / And somebody's got to help them out / In everything they do." Priests in Buenos Aires say Bergoglio could recite long passages of Martín Fierro from memory. As cardinal in 2002 he used it, in the middle of a devastating crisis, to help reimagine the nation Argentina was called to be.
By 1880, federalism was spent as a force, and the liberal project — centralizing, modernizing, capitalist — was unchallenged. Buenos Aires was made the federal capital, and the city of La Plata the capital of Buenos Aires province. National elections were held: presidents completed six-year terms and handed over to elected successors. As a democracy, it was far from perfect: until 1912 only naturalized citizens who were also male property owners could vote, and a single party, a coalition of provincial forces known as the National Autonomist Party (PAN), ensured its self-perpetuation by means both fair and foul. But it was stable, and what followed were five decades of rapid growth: finance and industrial goods poured in, along with millions of immigrants from southern Europe, while exports, mostly wheat, beef, and wool, flowed out. In this first era of globalization, triggered by massive cost reductions — the steam engine and the ship propeller had the same effect on that age as the microchip has on ours today — Argentina was the tiger economy of its day, proof, said its advocates, of the virtues of free-market capitalism.
Economists call it comparative advantage: what Argentina produced well and cheaply was what European countries needed, and vice versa. As demand for Argentine exports accelerated, the frontier was pushed back; in 1879, the so-called Conquest of the Desert wrested eight million hectares of land from the Tehuelche and Araucanian natives and handed them over to just four hundred landowners. As huge swathes of territory opened up, Argentina sent increasing quantities of food and raw materials to Europe's expanding industries and urban populations, while using the currency it earned from its exports to buy in the industrial goods and technology it needed to develop. Britain, then the world's leading industrial power and provider of capital, was Argentina's main market, its leading investor, and its major source of industrial goods. British capitalists invested in or ran the railway, the telegraph, the gaslights on the streets, the postal service, and the Buenos Aires trams, as well as Latin America's first ever underground train, Line A of the Buenos Aires subte, which, decades later, would have one of its most loyal passengers in Cardinal Bergoglio.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Great Reformer"
Copyright © 2018 Austen Ivereigh.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents
One: Far Away and Long Ago (1936-1957) 1
Two: The Mission (1958-1966) 40
Three: Storm Pilot (1967-1974) 83
Four: Crucible (1975-1979) 124
Five: The Leader Expelled (1980-1992) 165
Six: A Bishop Who Smelled of Sheep (1993-2000) 210
Seven: Gaucho Cardinal (2001-2007) 253
Eight: Man for Others (2008-2012) 302
Nine: Conclave (2013) 349
Epilogue: The Great Reform 368
Note on Sources 411
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Impressively researched and interesting read. A little slow-going at times during extensive details on Argentinian politics, but worth reading for anyone curious about a man who has become a new role model for many people.
ADmiring portrait of Francis and the forces that shaped him. Interesting history on RC church in Argentina during dark days and Jorge Bergoglio's situation. Worth the read if you want to know the forces and history that shaped this popular pontiff.