I am neither a journalist, nor a prophet. But since Pope Francis comes from Argentina and I’m an Argentinean, it seems that I should have something to say.
Jason Horowitz wrote in The Washington Post: “The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church broke Europe’s millennium-long stranglehold on the papacy and astonished the Catholic world Wednesday electing Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the 266th pope.”
If the Catholic world was astonished, the most astonished of all were the Argentineans.
One of the most astonished was the current Argentine national government. In the Casa Rosada – the Pink House equivalent to the White House – the view on Bergoglio was that because of his advanced age, his chances of becoming pope were finished.
Nobody in Argentina would have wagered on Bergoglio becoming the pope, except for people expecting a miracle. Or lottery gamblers.
“If you saw the divine spell written in the numbers,” wrote a staff journalist in the Clarin newspaper, “you could have made a lot of money.”
See: the winning number of the Morning National Lottery on Wednesday, 8235, is the number of the membership card of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his soccer team club: San Lorenzo de Almagro.
In the “dreams table,” the one that cabalists use to link dreams to numbers, 35 belongs to “the bird,” the seagull that stood on the chimney of the Vatican chapel while ballots were being cast.
Moreover, the numbers of the evening lottery on Wednesday also had connections to Bergoglio. The National Lottery winning number was 40, which in dreams interpretation is “the priest,” while the winning number of the lottery of the Province of Buenos Aires was 88, which is “the pope.”
It seems weird, but it takes an Argentinean to make these connections.
These weird connections are the ones that Bergoglio brings to the papacy. After all, he is Argentinean!
If you forget, he is also Italian. According to Italy, if you are a child, or even a grandchild of an Italian citizen, you continue to be an Italian citizen who can apply for an Italian passport and who can vote in the Italian elections. So, from a strictly Italian point of view, Bergoglio is Italian.
Another weird connection is the one that makes a strongly conservative Catholic a champion of the poor.
The same man who has condemned liberation theology cannot be at the same time defending the “preferential option for the poor,” right? Wrong.
The proof is Bergoglio.
Sergio Rubin, a religious journalist for Clarín, who is Bergoglio’s authorized biographer, said that, like Pope John Paul II, Bergoglio is “conservative at the level of doctrine, and progressive on social issues.”
He has criticized the International Monetary Fund and modern-market capitalism; at the same time he has rejected abortion, all forms of birth control – even condoms – and same-sex marriage.
Rubin acknowledged that Bergoglio’s rejection of Liberation Theology remains controversial among left-leaning Argentines and Catholics, especially Horacio Verbisky, a journalist of Página/12 and director of the “Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales,” who has accused Bergoglio of connivance with the generals who conducted the “Dirty War” and caused the 30,000 to disappear between 1976-83.
Verbisky wrote that Bergoglio will be “a surrogate of lesser quality, a populist conservative who will try to introduce cosmetic changes in the church using his strong acting gifts.”
Those who have known him closely, however, describe him as a shy, soft-spoken man who shuns high society as a true representative of Francis of Assisi, while strong in character and a true decision-maker.
Raúl Scialabba, president of the Argentine Baptist Association and member of the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance – who has known Bergoglio for years and worked with him in the CALIR (Consejo Argentino para la Libertad Religiosa) – has described Bergoglio as a person who, while soft-spoken and affable, is quite strong and uncompromising.
“When you realize he never negotiated his doctrinal positions, especially with regards to the rampant corruption that has been a distinctive of so many Argentine companies and government agencies,” said Scialabba, “you have to agree that his election as the high pontiff is a breath of fresh air. He is a person of integrity, who does not compromise with anything or anybody, who will defend the Christian values at all costs.”
Scialabba is not alone among evangelicals in Argentina who express approval of Bergoglio.
Bergoglio has shown himself very conciliatory and ecumenical, open to evangelicals, at least those of the more charismatic persuasion.
In October 2012, about 6,000 evangelicals and Catholics met in the Luna Park stadium – the Madison Square Garden of Buenos Aires – to listen, among others, to the preaching of Bergoglio.
In his message, Pope Francis asserted: “Jesus was essentially in the street, walking among the people and doing good. He still does it today, even when we do not recognize him. I lament that the church today is weak in its capacity of surprise and tenderness.”
Pope Francis continued: “These are two attributes we need to recover. We are fed up with bad news so much that we forget the good news of the gospel. Please, do not get used to see malnourished children in the street, not abandoned people, homeless ones who need food and shelter. Lord, every time we see you suffering, let us be surprised and let us come to you with tenderness.”
Bergoglio is a tender kind of Jesuit.
Francesca Ambroghetti, co-author of the book “El Jesuita” (The Jesuit), on the life of Bergoglio, said, “There was this axiom in the church that a Jesuit could never be a pope. Jesuits have a very special spirituality. They are men of action, but also strong in spirit. They have a contagious faith.”
Ambroghetti continued: “I felt a very strong emotion yesterday, as all of Argentina did. Especially because Bergoglio connected with people immediately. He will be a pope that comes from afar, but at the same time a near pope, since he grew up in an Italian family, with Italian customs. I believe it was of utmost importance that the pope came from afar, but at the same time he will not become a ‘strange body’ there in the Vatican. He will have a weird view there in the Curia, but he will be one of them.”
Argentine-Italian, compassionate-conservative, outsider-insider, quiet-strong, soft-determinate, game changer-continuity, the uncertainties of Bergoglio’s papacy will, in time, unfold and show the world the qualities and deficiencies of the recently elected pope.
From an Argentine point of view, among the uncertainties of the day, one thing was true. When Argentineans Wednesday repeated the famous “habemus papam” – “we” have a Pope, the accent was strongly on the “we.”
Daniel Carro is on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics (EthicsDaily.com), professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va., and first vice president of the Baptist World Alliance (2010-15). He was originally from Argentina.