VATICAN CITY — Obviously oblivious to the fact that he would have a son who, one day, would become pope, a 17-year-old Mario Bergoglio actually became a sort of informal expert on the papacy, giving two talks on the subject in his native Italy.
An Italian author, Stefano Masino, made that and other interesting discoveries about Pope Francis’ closest relatives when he conducted detailed research in local, national and diocesan archives in Italy. Some of his findings were published today in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Mario, Pope Francis’ father, grew up in the northern Italian city of Asti in the Piedmont region and took an active part in the diocese’s youth group.
In 1925, when he was a 17-year-old high school student, the Diocesan Youth Federation organized a two-month-long series of conferences dedicated to a variety of topics. Some teens were assigned to give talks on the history of Catholic Action; the relationship between prayer, action and sacrifice; and responsible journalism.
Mario Bergoglio was assigned “The Papacy” and was given a very good write-up in the local paper after his talk.
In the paper’s Dec. 12, 1925, edition, the article said:
“Mario Bergoglio, an accounting student, spoke passionately and forcefully — with frequent and apt historical references — on the theme, “The Papacy.” Captivating his audience and receiving their applause, he can surely be counted on for successfully being an ardent proponent of our ideal.”
Three years later, during an annual Father’s Day celebration organized by a Catholic youth association, he also delivered “a most beautiful explanatory speech on the papacy,” heaping high praise on the pope at the time, Pope Pius XI.
Less than a year before he and his parents were set to immigrate to Argentina, he took part in a “Catechist Contest” in 1928, testing — alongside the local bishop — the line-up of contestants.
Pope Francis has often talked very lovingly of his paternal grandmother, Rosa, who taught him how to pray and helped instill in him his great faith in Christ.
But her son — the pope’s father, Mario — also inherited the same sensibility.
In fact, in this book-length series of interviews, the future pope says his father took his decision to become a priest very well, “More than well, he was happy.”
While the pope’s mother, who was also very religious, worried he was acting too hastily, “I definitely knew my father was going to understand me better,” the future pope said.
His father’s mother, Rosa, “was a very strong religious role model for him (for Mario), and he had inherited that religiousness, that fortitude,” he said.
Pope Francis, too, inherited those gifts and, though he “came from the ends of the earth,” didn’t fall far from the Bergoglio’s tree of faith.