Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions

Living Edition
| Editors: Henri Gooren

Francis, Pope

  • Ole Jakob LølandEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_225-1


Catholicism Papacy Aparecida CELAM conference Liberation theology Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) Argentina 


Jorge Bergoglio (1936–) was elected pope and announced his papal name Francis on March 13, 2013. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in Argentina on December 17, 1936. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on December 13, 1969. He was named Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina on July 31, 1973 and was made Metropolitan Archbishop of Buenos Aires on February 28, 1998. During his papacy, Francis has visited all continents.


Jorge Bergoglio (1936–) is an Argentinean citizen who was elected head of the Vatican state in 2013 at the age of 76. He has lived most of his life in Argentina where he served as a Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in the order on a national level in the South American country at the relatively young age of 36. His papacy’s relations to Latin America have in particular been marked by his explicit support to the *Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) movement in the region and the decision to canonize the Salvadoran Bishop Oscar *Romero (1917–1980) as a Roman Catholic saint.

Key Information

Early Biography

Jorge Bergoglio was born in Flores, a former working class district in the central part of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. His parents were accountant Mario José Bergoglio (1908–1959) and housewife Regina María Sívori (1911–1981). Mario Jose’s family emigrated from Northern Italy in 1929 and settled in Buenos Aires where Jorge was raised as the eldest of five children. He was educated at the technical secondary school Escuela Nacional de Educacion Técnica where he graduated with a chemical technician’s diploma. After having worked for some time at the Hickethier-Bachmann Laboratory as chemical technician and as part-time doorman at tango bars, Bergoglio made the decision in 1955 to join an archdiocesan seminary. For 2 years he studied at the archdiocesan seminary in the Villa Devoto district of Buenos Aires, which was ran by Jesuits until 1960. Bergoglio’s rector, his spiritual advisor, and several of his teachers were Jesuits. He formally applied in November 1957 and entered the Society of Jesus as a novice on March 11, 1958. After 2 years’ novitiate, in Córdoba, Bergoglio made the initial vows and became an official member of the Society on March 12, 1960. His Jesuit formation lasted for 13 years and was completed in 1971. He spent a year studying the humanities in Santiago, Chile, and in 1964–1966, Bergoglio gave courses in psychology and literature in colleges in Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. For 6 years he studied philosophy and theology at the Colegio Maximo, in the Buenos Aires province town of San Miguel, which led to his priestly ordination in 1969. The year after, Bergoglio made the final vows to the Jesuit order (Hagopian (2008), (Ivereigh 2015). In Colegio Maximo, he was taught by the Jesuit theologian Juan Carlos Scannone, whose thought is referred to in Francis’ papal writings. During these years, Bergoglio also served a master of novices, including for Catholic youths who belonged to the political Peronist group “Guardia de Hierro.” The “Iron Guard” was originally part of illegal Peronist resistance to the military regime in Argentina. After free elections were allowed and the former president Juan Perón could run for office in 1973, the group was formally dissolved the year after.

From Jesuit Provincial to Archbishop

In July 1973, Bergoglio was chosen by the Society of Jesus as the Provincial Superior of the order on a national level in Argentina at the age of 36. He held this position until 1979, 3 years into the period of the military regime that lasted until 1983. His role as the Superior of the Jesuits has been a matter of controversy, because of the imprisonment and torture of the Jesuits Orlando Yoirio and Francisco Jalics in 1976. These Jesuits were formally under Bergoglio’s jurisdiction as Jesuit priests.

In 1980–1986, Bergoglio worked as a rector at the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel in San Miguel. When this term came to an end, Bergoglio went to the Jesuit College of higher education in Frankfurt, Germany: the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology. Here he initiated his doctoral studies on the theology of the Italian-born German priest and academic Romano Guardini (1885–1968). The dissertation was never completed.

In 1992, Bergoglio was promoted as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires and within some months, on June 27, he was appointed Titular Bishop of Auca, with Cardinal Antonio Quarracino as the principal consecrator in the ordination in the cathedral of Buenos Aires. Upon Quarracino’s death in 1998, Bergoglio succeeded him as Metropolitan Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Archbishop Bergoglio created several parishes, increased the number of priests serving in poor districts of the capital, and restructured the archdiocese administrative offices, particularly with regard to the economic affairs of the Archdiocese.

Three years later, on February 21, 2001, John Paul created him cardinal. As cardinal, Bergoglio held five administrative positions in the Roman Curia as a member of the following ministries: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Clergy, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Commission for Latin America.

Bergoglio served 2–3-year terms as the president of the Argentina Episcopal Conference (2005–2011). At the 5th general conference of Latin American bishops (CELAM) in *Aparecida, Brazil, he was elected as the chair of the committee that was charged with drafting the final document.

An Argentinean Pope

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Bergoglio became the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be promoted and elected as bishop of Rome and principal head of the Catholic Church.

By electing an Argentinian as *Benedict XVI’s successor, the conclave of 2013 chose a figure that stands between the religiously vibrant Latin America and the secularized Europe. Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country where the decline in the numbers of nominal Catholics is lower than in Brazil and the Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua). Nonetheless, from 1970 to 2014, Catholic affiliation in Argentina has decreased from 91% to 71% (Pew 2014). Only Uruguay and Chile are comparative to the low numbers of religious participation reported among Catholic in the pope’s home country. In 2010, Bergoglio became a profiled figure of national opposition to the policy of gay marriage enforced by the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007–2015), in a country where the public support for such legislation is, even among Catholics, considerably higher than in most other Latin American countries (Hagopian 2008). Still, most Argentineans have a favorable view of Bergoglio as Pope Francis (Pew 2014). The decision to renew his Argentinean passport, although Francis is the head of the Vatican City State, signaled a symbolic relocation of the Holy See under his governance (Morello 2017).

Relations to Latin American Catholicisms

The first country Pope Francis visited was Brazil. At the occasion of the celebration of the XXVIII World Youth Day in July 2013, more than three million Catholics from around 170 countries packed at Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacapana beach, constituting one of the largest crowds ever gathered in Latin American history. While Francis’ sermons to the young Catholics in many ways were similar to the ones given at earlier meetings by his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the press conference given on the plane on July 28 marked a shift in tone. Francis’ remark that “[i]f someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?” gained headlines in the international press.

Less media coverage was given to the Pope’s first official recognition of the value and legitimacy of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), expressed at the same press conference (Thorsen 2015). Since the CCR is the biggest Catholic lay movement on the Latin American continent, this was significant as the Pope embraces a movement that by many is seen as one of the most effective ways for the Catholic Church to counter the first real challenge to the Church’s centuries’ long religious monopoly in the region: the success of Pentecostalism. The Pope defended the CCR movement saying that it stops Catholics from leaving the Church for Pentecostal communities. At the same time, the Pope emphasized how the movement renews the Church.

Another controversial renewal movement in Latin American Catholicism is the liberation theology movement. As the Provincial Superior, Bergoglio governed the Society of Jesus in Argentina in considerable tension with some of the movement’s Argentinean affiliates in the national movement Sacerdotes por el Tercer Mundo (MSTM), for instance in the person of the slum priest Orlando Yoirio. As Pope, however, Bergoglio received Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Peruvian priest regarded as the father of the renewal movement, in September 2013. This signaled a shift in the Vatican’s relations to liberation theologians. Noteworthy, during the papal visit to Peru in January 2018 Gutiérrez was one of the prominent guests invited to an official meeting with Francis.

When Pope Francis in February 2015 officially declared the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to 1980, Monseñor Oscar Romero, as a martyr for the Catholic faith, another major recognition of the legacy of liberation theology had been enacted by the Argentinean Pontiff. A process of canonization that the predecessors had put on hold was now reopened by Francis, and nearly 5 years into his Pontificate it became known that the process was to reach its completion. It was announced that the Supreme Pontiff had authorized to promulgate the Decree concerning the miracle, attributed to the intercession of the beautified Archbishop. The first Archbishop in the Catholic Church to be assassinated during the celebration of Mass since the Middle Ages was to officially be named a saint.

Papal Visits to Latin America

During the first 5 years of his papacy, Francis has visited eight Latin American countries. The two largest Catholic populations in the world are in the region and the largest was receiving the Pope in 2013: Brazil. Three years later, the time had come for Mexico, the country with a significantly higher percentage of nominal Catholics as part of the population than Brazil. Here the pope’s vision from his first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013) about a Church that seeks to “reach all the ‘peripheries’” (EG20) and “is dirty because it has been out on the streets” (EG49) was reflected in the choices of places for the papal visits. Besides the national sanctuary of Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Francis prioritized the marginalized Ecatepec district of Mexico City, Ciudad Juárez marked by drug trafficking, and San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. Once again, the pope’s respect for an ecclesial figure commonly associated with liberation theology was made public when the Argentinean bishop of Rome visited the tomb of Archbishop Samuel Ruiz (1924–2011).

The papal journeys to Latin American countries have come to be interpreted as signs of the popularity of history’s first pope from the region. His journeys to Cuba in 2015 and 2016, to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Ecuador in 2015, and to Colombia in 2017 were all manifestations of crowds that welcomed the home-coming of one of their own having been elected for the highest office in the global church.

While the visit to Peru in January 2018 followed in this pattern, the visit to Chile the same month turned out strikingly different. The official gatherings of the Church attracted relatively huge crowds, but the pope was also met with criticism in the Chilean media and even protests on the streets. In the frontline of some of the protests were victims of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in Chile. In particular, the public image of the Catholic Church in Chile has been damaged after the so-called Case Karadima became known to the public in 2010. In 2015, the pope took the controversial decision of appointing Juan Barros as head of head the diocese of Osorno. Barros had been accused by victims of sexual abuse of covering the Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, who was convicted by a Vatican court in 2011. In an exchange with the press, at the gate of the Iquique venue where he was heading to say Mass, the Pope accused Karadima’s victims of calumny, which again provoked further indignation in the Chilean public. Such an outrage against the pope’s utterances and decisions was unprecedented in the region, although Pope Francis’ public role in relations to Latin American affairs had been also questioned earlier.

In 2013, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro invited Pope Francis to visit his country. It has yet to be accepted by the Vatican. The population has suffered from a humanitarian crisis caused by the most severe economic recession in modern Latin American history. Moreover, the Venezuelan government has not allowed regular elections to take place and has imprisoned political opponents. In October 2016, the majority of the political opposition accepted to negotiate with the government on one condition: having the Vatican as mediator. Maduro was allowed for an official visit with Pope Francis. All the same, the negotiations, moderated by the Vatican, came to an end after a couple of months. The opposition withdrew from a process that did not produce the outcome they had hoped for. When Francis several months later encouraged the Venezuelan opposition to resume dialogue with the Maduro government, he was met with considerable criticism from the leaders of the opposition.

In contrast, the role Pope Francis played in the contacts between the US government and the Communist regime in Cuba was widely applauded. In the last phase of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Pope became one of major symbols of reconciliation between two former arch-enemies on the Western hemisphere. Ever since John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, the Vatican had challenged Washington to enter into dialogue with the Castro regime. When president Obama in 2015 credited Pope Francis for his successful efforts of bridging the political gap between the United States and Cuba, these public credentials were given in the aftermath of decade long efforts by the quiet Vatican diplomacy. Pope Francis was by no means the first to criticize the trade embargo imposed by the United States, although the criticism sounded even stronger when it was articulated by a papal voice arising from the superpower’s “backyard”: Latin America.

In terms of its share of the number of Catholics worldwide, Latin America has for decades been underrepresented in the body of cardinals in the Church. By May 2017, Francis had created 49 cardinal electors (in the next conclave), including several from peripheries in the Catholic world, from countries like Laos or Sweden that are not predominantly Catholic. The number of Latin American cardinals has not been significantly raised. This contributes to the continuing underrepresentation of the Latin American Church in the composition of the College of Cardinals.



  1. Hagopian F (2008) Introduction: the new landscape. In: Hagopian F (ed) Religious pluralism, democracy, and the Catholic church in Latin America. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, pp 1–66Google Scholar
  2. Ivereigh A (2015) The great reformer: Francis and the making of a radical pope. Allen & Unwin, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  3. Morello G (2017) Transformations in Argentinean Catholicism, from the second half of the twentieth century to Pope Francis. In: Mapril J, Blanes RL, Giumbelli E, Wilson EK (eds) Secularisms in a postsecular age? Religiosities and subjectivities in comparative perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp 231–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. PewResearchCenter (2014) Religion in Latin America: widespread change in a historically catholic region. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/13/religion-in-latin-america/Google Scholar
  5. Thorsen JE (2015) Charismatic practice and Catholic parish life: the incipient pentecostalization of the church in Guatemala and Latin America. Brill, Leiden/BostonCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of TheologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway