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Manuel Rueda   |   March 19, 2013   10:32 AM ET

A kit for making mate tea was the first gift that Pope Francis received from a world leader. The kit, which included a silver straw, a thermos and a small mate bowl made of cured squash, was presented to Pope Francisco by Argentine President Cristina Krichner, who seemed to be rather nervous as she unwrapped the traditional Argentine gift.

ALMUDENA CALATRAVA   |   March 15, 2013    4:26 PM ET

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- While the appointment of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope has filled many in this deeply Catholic country with pride, members of the gay pride community are unsurprisingly less than enthusiastic with the Vatican's choice.

Nearly three years before Argentina became known as home to the first Latin American pope, it made history as the first country in the region to approve gay marriage – an action that then-Cardinal Bergoglio actively opposed.

Gabriel Lerner   |   March 15, 2013    1:55 PM ET

The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope Francis brought joy to Argentina, but has also cast a spotlight on the religious leader’s dark past, scarred by allegations of collaborating in the case of two Jesuits who were kidnapped by the country's military dictatorship for five months in 1976. One of them accused Bergoglio -- then his superior at the Society of Jesus -- of being behind his abduction.

Bergoglio was also called to testify as a witness in a second case concerning the military government's theft of the children of murdered political opponents. Some 500 missing children were delivered to military families during Argentina's "Dirty War," after the dictatorship killed their parents.

The new Pope would have been called as a witness during the trial of former dictators Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, relating to the disappearance of children between 1976 and 1983, reported Mexican daily La Jornada in December 2011.

Although he was not implicated in the military's crimes, doubts remain as to whether he knew about them when they were happening. Speaking to the BBC, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, human rights activist at the time and Nobel Peace Prize honoree in 1980, said Bergoglio "had no link with the dictatorship."

"There were bishops who were accomplices but Bergoglio wasn't," he added.

The Vatican also vehemently denies that the newly elected Pope was involved in any way with the former military dictatorship. Reuters reports : "that Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters the accusations: 'Must be clearly and firmly denied. He added, 'They reveal anti-clerical left-wing elements that are used to attack the Church'."

In an interview with HuffPost Voces, Nestor Fantini, identified by Amnesty International as a former prisoner of conscience, explained the Argentina Society by the time was deeply and hopelessly divided. Fantini, who spent four years in jail, said that division also existed within the Church:

In the 1970s, the church was deeply divided in Argentina: there was a group that after the historic Ecumenical Council sought ways to bring the church closer to the people and, on the other hand, there were those who directly or covertly supported the military dictatorship. The Holy Father, unfortunately, was part of the last [group].

Split internally, the Church did not publicly denounce the disappearances.

"If the Episcopal Conference had joined and had had one voice, it would have had a strong force to save lives, but that did not happen in Argentina," said Esquivel to the BBC.

The request to call the religious leader to testify in 2011 came from the prosecutor in the case against Videla and Bignone, Martin Niklison, due to statements made by now-Pope Francis saying he was unaware of the kidnapping and disappearances of children until around 2000, while survivors of the era claimed otherwise.

A year earlier, the cardinal had testified in the case of the two Jesuits, something that was corroborated by various means.

When required Bergoglio's testimony in court, he didn’t give it in person -- thanks to special treatment afforded to members of the Church -- but responded in writing to a list of questions. The organization Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have made documents from his testimony public. In them, the then Cardinal acknowledges having spoken with a father of a missing person. However, he says he doesn’t remember if by that time - around 1976 - it was mentioned at the meeting that the woman was pregnant or had given birth to a daughter.

It was the daughter and granddaughter of Alicia de la Cuadra Zubasnabar -- the first president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who died in 2008. The family says Roberto Luis De la Cuadra -- Alicia's husband -- asked Bergoglio help search for his missing daughter and granddaughter, Elena and Ana.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo discusses the incident in their website.

Back then Bergoglio received Elena's father twice, directing him to the Archbishop of La Plata, Mario Picchi. He confirmed that Elena had given birth to a girl who called Ana Libertad and was in the hands of a family: "A family is raising the baby well, [what happened to] Elena is irreversible," he explained.

Ana Libertad remains missing.

The document, dated Sept. 23, 2011, contain the Pope’s entire statement as a witness.

In response, Bergoglio recognizes that in a conversation with Father Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Society of Jesus in Rome, in 1977, he spoke of the case of the Argentine family de la Cuadra. Subsequently. At the request of Arrupe, Bergoglio acknowledges having met with Roberto Luis de la Cuadra.

"Yes, I remember that the man was concerned about the disappearance of his daughter in the province of Buenos Aires… he told me he had a daughter that was kidnapped," Bergoglio said, though he said he didn't remember if he had said that she was pregnant.

Bergoglio adds that his role was to "alert Church authorities -– [in this case, Mario Ricci] -- in the area where apparently a kidnapping would have occurred" to ask for their help.

The then Cardinal denied in another answer knowing of the pregnancy or the birth of the child in captivity, until many years later, through the media.

When asked if he took any action to contact military authorities, police or politicians in connection with the disappearance of Elena de la Cuadra, Bergoglio simply responded: "No, I did not."

A copy of a letter sent by Bergoglio to Monsignor Mario Richi, Archbishop of La Plata, to whom De la Cuadra came asking for help, was also included in the bundle of documents.

Nowadays, it is known that all the efforts made by the religious hierarchy, if any, were unsuccessful.

The document is not conclusive. Bergoglio didn’t confirm to be completely unaware of the cases of the missing people –- it was common for desperate families in those days to try to get help in the Church -- only about the stolen babies, which he reaffirmed in his testimony.

Today the followers of the Pope emphasize his "clear commitment to pastoral work in disadvantaged areas" and remember that he repeatedly "helped many during the regime," including his efforts to interfere with Videla for the two Jesuits kidnapped.

The election of Francis, as Fantini wrote on in a blog on The Huffington Post titled "The Two Faces of Bergoglio" seems to reopen the wounds of those who lived through those years of suffering and terror in Argentina. The question now is whether the process of helping to heal those wounds will be on the agenda of the new Pope, he says.

“Francisco has a lot to do. In an interview today, with Estela de Carlotto, president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, she states that: ‘[Bergoglio] forgot us a little, we never listen him speaking of our grandchildren, or missing people... He didn’t come to shake our hands or offer the necessary support from the church, that we all as Catholics expected. "

  |   March 15, 2013   10:00 AM ET

As soon as it was announced that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected as the new pope, becoming Pope Francis or Papa Francisco, people from around the world began to fill the social networks with funny memes about the historic event.

From his fellow countrymen finally receiving confirmation that God was in fact from Argentina, to jokes related to the Pope’s new attire, and 'BIG mistakes' made by the press, take a look at part of what has been discussed in social media these days.

Are we missing any? Add yours to the gallery!

Pope Francis: The 'Futbol' Lover

Vito Garcia   |   March 14, 2013   12:17 PM ET

francisco i

If God is an Argentine, and if the Messiah is also from La Pampa, we are now being watched over by a Pope who hails from the Southern Cone. Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been appointed the new head of the Catholic Church, and like a good Argentine, has soccer running through his veins.

The new pope is a heavy reader, favoring the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Leonaldo Marechal and Dostoyevsky. He is an opera lover, and a San Lorenzo soccer club fan, which coincidentally was founded by a priest.

Bergoglio, Pope Francis, is a staunch Cyclone supporter. He's been by their side throughout many of their most important moments. He even offered to conduct mass during the team's 100-year anniversary in 2008. According to him, he tries not to miss a game, something that will become more difficult from his new home.

The new Pope's father was a San Lorenzo basketball player, and his love of sports developed from there. As a boy, he used to support the soccer club at the Viejo Gasómetro stadium. Perhaps it's from his love of San Lorenzo that he grew closer to the church as a young man. The Argentine team was founded by Father Lorenzo Massa, who named the club in his own honor.

Pope Francis has always carried soccer close. At the ceremony honoring the club's 100-year anniversary, he recalled that in San Lorenzo, "other colors don't matter to us, we will pray to the Virgin." He also asked to "never remove Virgin Mary, Our lady of Help, from the team because she is your mother, considering San Lorenzo born in (the Oratory) San Antonio under the Virgin's protection."

At that moment, team President Carlos Abdo gave him an official jersey and named him an honorary member of the soccer club. The children who took part in the festivities presented him with a pennant signed by all in attendance. The Pope was moved by all the displays of affection and recalled the 1946 season, along with Pontoni's goals, "I did not miss one of those games," he said.

Follow Vito Garcia and more articles on La Ciudad Deportiva.com

Originally published in Spanish in HuffPost Voces as Francisco, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, el Papa de San Lorenzo.




Mandy Fridmann   |   March 14, 2013   11:51 AM ET

Olga Wornat, an Argentine journalist and writer, is one of the few people outside the Church that has interacted closely with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the current Pope Francis. She interviewed him while researching her book “Nuestra Santa Madre, historia pública y privada de la iglesia católica,” (“Our Holy Mother, A Public and Private History of the Catholic Church), and they’ve been close since then.

Huffpost Voces spoke with her about his personality, the controversies that surround him, and about the dark side of the man who is now known as the “Pope of the poor.”

Who is the man behind Pope Francis?

Like all Jesuits, he is a fascinating character. He belongs to a congregation of intellectually brilliant people, and he is that way. He is a very enigmatic man, who keeps a low profile. The Jesuits are the Church’s most brilliant, they really like the Church, and they are interested in politics. His appointment is very curious because it is the first time that a Jesuit reaches such a high position, especially taking into account that the Jesuit congregation was chastised by John Paul II. He practically forced them to disappear because he saw them as a congregation of Marxists, rebels, revolutionaries.

How did you become his biographer?

I met Bergoglio when he was at the Buenos Aires’ archdiocese and he was the right hand of Cardinal Quarracino. He worked a lot with the poor. He is an austere man with a very fragile health. He is the son of an Italian family. His mom was a middle-class Italian.

Why do you say he is health is fragile?

He had tuberculosis when he was a child, and that had important consequences. He lacks the upper side of his right lung and he has angina pectoris. That is why he swims a lot.

How would you describe him from your perspective?

He is a difficult man because he didn’t speak much. Rather, he listens. He is a man of few words, and contrary to John Paul II he is not a great conversationalist. He is very distrustful. When I was researching my book, I am not sure if he liked the fact that I was writing about the Argentine Catholic Church, but he agreed to talk to me. I told him that there was going to be an important chapter that would be about him, and he got nervous –especially because there is a dark time in his life that has to do with the military dictatorship.

What was Pope Francis’ position during Argentina’s military dictatorship?

There are very contradictory accounts about the degree of collaboration that he maintained with the dictatorship during those years. I spoke with Jesuits, with members of the congregation, which point him out as a collaborator. Bergoglio was a man who at that time was the director of the Colegio Máximo, which is a school in the province of Buenos Aires where all the Jesuits from the Southern Cone are formed. There are concrete allegations against him –I have them—about how he supposedly gave the government lists with the names of the members of the Company of Jesus who were involved with the guerrillas, the men who had leftist or revolutionary inclinations. Two of them, whom I interviewed, voiced strong accusations against him.

Did you speak about the subject with the Pope? What did he tell you?

He denied it; he said it wasn’t true, and that in fact he used to meet with the members of the military junta to ask about the priests that had been kidnapped. It is a cloud that hovers over his history as a priest, one that is dark and contradictory. There are those who love him and those who hate him. There is no middle term with him. But that is not the only dark story in his past.

What is the other dark story in Pope Francis’ life?

He never told me why the Company of Jesus punished him. He was sent to a sort of spiritual getaway to an Argentinian city, and he was there for a long time. While he was there he was isolated and he suffered from a profound depression. He is a man who is intellectually fascinating, and politically inconsistent. He is a staunch opponent of abortion, of marriage equality and its respective policy regarding adoption, but in his personal life he is a very warm man. He never raises his voice and he is very intelligent. He listens to you and he is curt. When you ask him a question, he responds with few words –just what needs to be said—and whenever he says goodbye, he says, “Pray for me.”

What was the reason for that punishment that he refuses to comment?

There are many stories, and I don’t want to say anything because I’m currently writing about it and there are still a lot of facts to confirm. But I can say that he is like everyone else in the Company of Jesus. He is shy, lonely, and he is not a charismatic man. Nevertheless, he shares a great connection with the poor.

The Jesuits are very progressive in their way of thinking, somewhat left-wing, and because of that some people hate them and some people love them. He has very austere ways. He always turned down official cars. He liked to ride public buses, the metro, and he used to walk to poor neighborhoods. When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he organized a tribute for Carlos Mujica, a leader of the Third World priests who was murdered by the Triple A [a right wing Peronist paramilitary movement] in 1975. He went all the way to Retiro [a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires, where land was seized without permission]. This shows the light and the shadows that forms his personality.

What is Pope Francis’ position regarding the dark side of the Church, the child abuse allegations?

I had a personal incident with him related to that subject. When I wrote the book, I dedicated a chapter to Archbishop Storni, who was the third ranked member of the Catholic Church in Argentina. I denounced him for the abuses he committed against the seminarians from the province of Santa Fe. There was a terrible scandal at the time.

The archbishop sought refuge in the Vatican and Ratzinger [Benedict XVI], who was in charge of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith while John Paul II was still alive, asked Storni to return to Argentina, to resign, and to turn himself in. I talked to Bergoglio about the situation and I asked him if they were going to defend him. He answered, 'The justice will take care of him.' After that, I found out that the lawyers that were defending Storni in the case of the seminarians were lawyers that were hired by the Argentinian episcopate, of which Bergoglio was a member.

I talked to him about this and I told him that what they were doing was terrible, because the episcopate was paying for the lawyers of a man who had abused 14-year-old teenagers. There was even an investigation led by the Argentinian Church. He didn’t respond. He just told me that that’s how things were, and that the Church’s laws were very strict.

Knowing him, what do you expect of Bergoglio as Pope?

We are not going to see a man who will make the big changes because he is a man of the Church. Yes, he is a man of great social sensibility, a brilliant man, but not someone who will embark on the great reforms. He is not prone to pomp, and he doesn’t like people to kiss his ring. He hates that. I gather that now he will have to follow those protocols, though maybe not, because even when he was a cardinal he wouldn’t allow people to kiss his ring. He didn’t like that. I even saw him dressed as a civilian when he was a cardinal, contrary to what all the others do. He is a Jesuit. You have to read Saint Ignatius of Loyola to understand Bergoglio.

KATHERINE CORCORAN   |   March 14, 2013   11:48 AM ET

MEXICO CITY — The famous words uttered to announce that a leader of the Catholic Church has been chosen now have special resonance for Latin America, which had felt neglected by the Vatican and has finally produced the New World's first pope.

"`'Habemus Papam.' `WE have a pope,'" said Tom Quigley, former policy adviser on Latin American and Caribbean affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "This will instill a sense of pride and happiness and will have a very positive effect."

Carlos Remeseira   |   March 14, 2013   11:31 AM ET

The new leader of the Catholic Church is a man of simple, austere habits. Father Guillermo Marcó, President of Fundación Pastoral Universitaria San Lucas and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s spokesman from 1998 to 2006, says for the past 14 years as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, his daily routine remained unchanged. Father Marcó explains Cardinal Bergoglio would wake up around 4.30 or 5 a.m. and then conduct his morning prayers. By 7 a.m., after having a light breakfast, he would read the papers. Then, until 8 a.m., he would remain close to a landline telephone.

Every priest in town knew that phone’s number, and every one of them knew that they could call every morning between 7 and 8 if they had any problem. The Cardinal himself would pick up the phone. Not any secretary, not any clerical adjutant, but Archbishop Bergoglio. He would listen to their complaints and their requests and he would jot down his observations in a small pocket-book with a small, almost microscopic handwriting. Only then he would walk down to his office, just a few steps away.

“Up until five days ago, this was his daily routine,” says Father Marcó.

Gabriel Lerner   |   March 14, 2013   10:08 AM ET

The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76 year old Argentine Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the leader of the Catholic world under the name of Francis should come as no surprise. Bergoglio was a finalist in the 2005 election that resulted in the papacy of Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Benedict XVI.

At the time, the new pope received at least 40 of the 77 necessary votes in the last round of voting that decided between him and Ratzinger.

Nonetheless, initial reactions underline the historical significance of this appointment: Bergoglio is the first Latin American – or non-European – in the Catholic Church’s two thousand year history to be selected as pope. According to analysts, this appointment reflects less the relative weakening of Catholicism under the current wave of Modernism, skepticism and other characteristics of our times but rather the importance that the faithful masses in Latin American have gained within the Catholic World.

Indeed, 480 million Catholics live in Latin America, making up 39 percent of the entire of the population. However, only 17 percent of the cardinals who voted in the conclave are from the subcontinent.

In contrast, 52 percent of the voting cardinals are from Europe, where only 24 percent of the global Catholic flock live.

With this choice, the 115 cardinals dismantled theories claiming that the next pope would be an existing member of the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, such as Cardinal Angelo Scola or another representative of the Italian cardinals, who still makeup the most powerful block among the voters.

The election of the first Jesuit also has much historic significance, given that the order has not always been considered at the center of the events at the Vatican, and Wednesday's events demonstrate recognition and considerable advancement for this entity.

With the ascendance of this new Latin American prelate (although he is the son of Italian parents), the question arises: what has been his positions over the years regarding the most important issues facing Latin Americans in their respective countries, especially in terms of the socio-economic and political confrontation which divided the population for decades between the left and right?

Bergoglio has been characterized as the voice of the Argentine conscience and champion of the poor. He is a man who prefers to take the bus instead of using the private vehicle that his ecclesiastic ranking affords him, and has up until now lived in a simple apartment instead of a mansion. Likewise, many emphasize his humble origins: born in Buenos Aires, he was one of five sons to an Italian immigrant railroad worker.

Nonetheless, these praises are not unanimous. Shortly before the vote that ended his candidacy in 2005, the now-pope was accused of the one of the worst crimes of our times by human rights lawyers: conspiring along with the military dictatorship that took power in 1976 and triggered the so called “Dirty War” during which up to 30,000 opponents— including Jesuits and militants from the worker class movement--were kidnapped and disappeared.

These accusations were never cleared up in a trial. Evidence against Bergoglio was not presented and he continued to vehemently declare his innocence. Given the timing of these allegations, it is believed that it was merely a campaign to discredit Bergoglio’s run for the papacy.

Bergoglio accepted the position as archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and served as a critical voice during the political and economic crisis in Argentina from 2000 to 2002, calling for mediation, moderation, and consideration for the needs of different sectors in the Argentine society. Criticizing the government using forceful language, he supported the cause of the voiceless poor and left little doubt of his commitment to this group.

However, he criticized the decision of President Nestor Kirchner in 2004 to bring to trial members of the military dictatorship of the past, affirming that the government was engaging in “exhibitionism.” He had also in the past said Kirchner's government policies were "immoral, unjust and illegitimate."

At the time Pope Francis I added:

“There are approximately 150,000 million Argentine dollars abroad, without taking into account those that are outside the financial system, and the media tells us that they continue to leave Argentina, approximately, another 2,000 million dollars more every month… What can be done so that these resources are put in the service of the country, in order to pay off the social debt and generate conditions necessary for essential development?”

Ideologically, Bergoglio is considered close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement, lead by father Luigi Giussani. The group was founded in 1954 with the goal of combating Marxist ideals among the Italian youth, but with time evolved and focused more on works of charity and social assistance.

Finally, the new pope brings a set of mixed beliefs, in which his concern for the underprivileged does not stop him from being conservative in questions concerning “morality and family.” He is opposed to abortion, contraception and gay marriage, but strongly supports help for HIV victims and baptism for illegitimate children.

  |   March 13, 2013    7:45 PM ET

We have a new Latino Pope, not only because he was the most prepared candidate, but apparently because former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez talked to Jesus Christ personally and hooked the Cardinal up.

In a televised show aired on Wednesday afternoon, current interim Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, assured the election of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has a lot to do with the fact that former Venezuelan leader died last week.

For the first time in history a South American has been elected as Pope, an Argentine. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio will be the 266th Pope. The debate was between an African and a South American Pope.

I don't know, we know that our ‘commander’ rose to the heights and is face to face with Christ. He must've influenced somehow to convene a South American Pope. Some new hand arrived and Christ said, 'Well, it is the time for South America'.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Buenos Aires was elected the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Francis on Wednesday. He is the first Latin American Pope to lead the church, as well as the first Jesuit priest.

Hugo Chavez, who led a leftist revolution and served as Venezuela's president for nearly 14 years, died at 58 years old on March 5th. He passed away after nearly two years of battling an unspecified cancer and being treated repeatedly in Cuba.

Take a look above to Maduro's speech and more about Pope Francis below.

  |   March 13, 2013    5:54 PM ET

¡Felicitaciones Al Papa Francisco!

A new Pope has been selected and for the first time in history he is from South America, more specifically Argentina. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was selected Wednesday, becoming the 266th Pope. Since Pope Benedict XVI announced he was to resign on February 28th the world has awaited news of a new pope, with a keen eye on where he might be from. We now have the answer.

This is the first time the world has had a Latino Pope and the reaction from the community was immediate. Some are happy and feel represented, others -- not so much. Check out how Hispanics from around the globe feel about the newly appointed leader of the Catholic Church in the slideshow above.


  |   March 13, 2013    5:19 PM ET

The Catholic Church made history on Wednesday, picking the first Latino Pope in the institution's history.

Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis -- a recognition of the leading role Latin America should play in the institution, given that it's the region with the most practicing Catholics in the world.

Some 39 percent of the world's Catholics hail from the region. Brazil and Mexico have the world's first- and second-largest Catholic populations, respectively, according to CNN.

Francis may be able to give the Church some insight into how to keep its numbers growing. The 76-year-old Pope is also the first Jesuit priest to hold the papacy, earning a reputation in Argentina for focusing on social outreach, according to the Associated Press.

For many in Latin America, not to mention Latinos living in the United States, this day is long overdue.

Check out five reasons why electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become the first Latino Pope was a smart move for the Catholic Church. Let us know what you think in the comments.

BRIAN MURPHY and MICHAEL WARREN   |   March 13, 2013    3:48 PM ET

VATICAN CITY — On the streets in Buenos Aires, the stories about the cardinal who would become the first pope from the Americas often include a very ordinary backdrop: The city bus during rush hour.

Tales are traded about chatting with Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as he squeezed in with others for the commute to work. They sometimes talk about church affairs. Other times it could be about what he planned to cook for dinner in the simple downtown apartment he chose over an opulent church estate.

DEBORA REY and MICHAEL WARREN   |   March 13, 2013    3:20 PM ET

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Tears and cheers erupted across Latin America on Wednesday as an Argentine cardinal became the first pope from the hemisphere, and many expressed hope that he could help bring the church closer to the poverty-wracked region that is home to more Roman Catholics than any other.

Drivers honked horns on the streets of Argentina's capital and television announcers screamed with elation at the news that the cardinal they knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio had become Pope Francis.