Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants. As a teenager, Bergoglio underwent surgery to remove a lung due to serious infection. Following his high school graduation, he enrolled at the University of Buenos Aires, where he earned a degree in chemistry before beginning training at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto. In March 1958, he entered the Society of Jesus.
Bergoglio went on to attend the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, where he earned a degree in philosophy, and later received a doctorate in theology in Freiburg, Germany.
Ordained as a priest in December 1969, Bergoglio began serving as Jesuit provincial of Argentina in 1973. He later returned to his alma mater, the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, where he served as rector (1980-86) as well as a professor of theology.
In June 1992, Bergoglio was named titular bishop of Auca and auxiliary of Buenos Aires, and in February 1998, he became archbishop of Buenos Aires, succeeding Antonio Quarracino. Three years later, in February 2001, he was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II, named the cardinal-priest of Saint Robert Bellarmine. In 2005, he was named president of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina, serving in that position until 2011.
After Pope John Paul II’s death in April 2005, Bergoglio reportedly received the second-most votes in the 2005 papal election; Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) won election as Pope John Paul’s successor.
Early into his priesthood, Bergoglio earned a reputation as a doctrinal conservative. He strongly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Argentina, calling it “a destructive attack on God’s plan” (a same-sex marriage bill was approved by Argentinian lawmakers in July 2010, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize such legislation). He also publicly disputed efforts to promote free contraception and artificial insemination led by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez.
On March 13, 2013, at the age of 76, Jorge Bergoglio was named the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church—becoming the first citizen from the Americas, the first non-European and first Jesuit priest to be named pope, and adopting the name Pope Francis (he reportedly took the title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy, a Catholic preacher during the 12th and 13th centuries). Prior to the 2013 papal election, Pope Francis had served as both archbishop and cardinal for more than 12 years.
Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City in Rome, Italy, after his election win, Pope Francis stated, “As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome. It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway. …Here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace.”
After the 2013 papal election results were announced, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement about the new pope: “As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day.”
In addition to his native Spanish, Bergoglio speaks Italian and German.
Pope Francis made his first international visit on July 22, 2013, when he arrived at the Galateo-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he was greeted by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in a welcome ceremony, later circulating downtown Rio in order to be “close to the people.”
While in Rio, Pope Francis was on hand to celebrate World Youth Day. More than 3 million people attended the pontiff’s closing mass at the event. On his way back to Rome, Pope Francis surprised reporters traveling with him regarding his seemingly open stance on gay Catholics. According to The New York Times, he told the press that “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” His remarks were heralded by several gay and lesbian groups as a welcoming gesture by the Roman Catholic Church.
In September 2013, Pope Francis called for others to join him in praying for peace in Syria. The pontiff held a special vigil in St. Peter’s Square on September 7, which was attended by roughly 100,000 people. According to the Catholic News Service, Francis told the crowd that “When man thinks only of himself … permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power … Then the door opens to violence, indifference and conflict.”
The pope implored those involved in the conflict to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. “Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation.”
Later that month, Pope Francis gave a revealing interview to an Italian Jesuit publication called La Civiltà Cattolica. He explained that the religious dialogue must been broader in scope, not simply focused on such issues as homosexuality and abortion. “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” the pope said, according to USA Today. “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
While he does not believe women should be ordained as priests, Francis considers themselves an essential part of the church. “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions,” he said. He also continued to present a more accepting attitude toward homosexuality than previous pontiffs, saying that “God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person,” according to The Guardian.
In early December 2013, Pope Francis gave an “apostolic exhortation,” an address calling for big changes in the Catholic Church, including rethinking long-held but antiquated customs. “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he stated. “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
Also in December 2013, Pope Francis was named Person of the Year by Time magazine. Pope Francis—having joined the ranks of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, the only other popes to be awarded the title in 1994 and 1963, respectively—was a contender against other prominent figures of the year, including Edward Snowden, Senator Ted Cruz, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Edith Windsor. In the article, it was revealed that the deciding factor which led to Pope Francis landing at the top of the list was his ability to alter the minds of so many people who had given up on the Catholic church in such a short period of time.
The following March, it was announced that Pope Francis had been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. He did not receive this honor, but he continued to devote his time to reaching out Catholics around the world. During that summer, Pope Francis went on his first visit to Asia. He spent five days in South Korea in August.
As he returned home from South Korea, Pope Francis discussed his own mortality with the press. “Two or three years and then I’ll be off to my Father’s house,” he said, according to a report in the Guardian. He also suffered a personal loss around that same time after several members of his family were killed in a car accident in Argentina.
That fall, Pope Francis showed himself to be progressive on several scientific issues. He told the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that he supported the Big Bang theory and evolution. According to the Independent newspaper, Pope Francis said that “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.” He also said that evolution “is not inconsistent with the notion of creation.”