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Bergoglio fondly remembers the moments he shared with his family, even cooking. “My mother was paralyzed after she had the last child, the fifth, although she recovered over time. When we got home from school during that time, she would be sitting down peeling potatoes, with all of the ingredients ready. She told us how we should mix them together and cook them, for we had no idea what we were doing: ‘Now put this in the pot, put that in the pan . . .’, she would tell us. This is how we learned to cook. We all know how to do it, at the very least cotolette alla ilanese.”
As a bishop, Bergoglio had less time to cook, but “when I lived in the Colégio Máximo, since there was no cook on Sunday, I cooked for my students.” The quality? “Well, I never killed anyone with my food . . .”
The pope’s sister Maria Elena explained the family’s life together to the Italian newspaper Reppublica: Before they had me, the youngest, twelve years after Jorge, mother lost another child. And I was thirteen when our father, Mario, died from a heart attack. But until then, it was in 1959, we were a happy family. Above all, we were an Italian family—Tanos, they called us in Argentina. I remember the sacredness of Sundays: first we went to Mass, in the church of San José, then the long lunches late into the afternoon. Those never-ending and very beautiful lunches with five, six, even seven courses. And with dessert. We were poor but with great dignity, and always faithful to what was for us the Italian tradition. Mother was an exceptional cook. She made fresh pasta, cappelletti and ragù, risotto piemontese, and delicious baked chicken. She always said that when she married Papa she didn’t even know how to make a fried egg. Then our nonna Rosa, who fled Piedmont in 1929, taught her the tricks. Grandmother Rosa was a heroine for us, a very brave lady. I’ll never forget when she told us how in her town, in Italy, she took the pulpit in church to condemn the dictatorship, Mussolini, fascism.
Francis’ sister also spoke of the affinity between the new pope and his father. Papa was an accountant, and he was also the only one in the house who had a job. And God knows how hard he worked to raise us. When he came to Argentina, he already had a degree, but they did not recognize it, and so he worked in a factory. But he could not sign the books; another person did. And because of this, they paid him less than they should have. He was always a joyful man, and my brother Jorge Mario reminds me so much of him. He never got angry. And he never hit us. That was the big difference between the Italian immigrant families and the other families in Argentina. The man was the authority in the house but without exaggerated masculinity. We—Jorge too, who was the oldest—were terrified of the looks Papa gave us when we knew we were into mischief. For him a look was really enough. Sometimes I would have preferred a hundred lashes to one of his reproachful glances. It annihilated me.
He was so in love with Mama, and he always brought her presents. He would take my hand, and we would secretly go out and buy something, anything, for Mama. Jorge always reminded me of both of them: Mama, because he too cooks very well, he makes fantastic stuffed calamari; but above all he reminds me of Papa. On Sunday, Papa did his work at home. He put those enormous accounting books on the table and turned on the phonograph, which filled our little house with music. He listened to opera and sometimes to Italian popular music. Classical music was the soundtrack of our Sundays. Still today, Jorge is like Papa: he loves opera and every so often a good tango. And Edith Piaf. And like Papa, he is the only one of us to be a fan of San Lorenzo.
The Bergoglio family was not well off, nor did they lack the necessities. “We were poor with dignity”, the Pope’s sister recalls. “At home we didn’t throw anything out. Mama succeeded in salvaging some article of clothing for us even from our father’s things. A ripped shirt, threadbare pants, were repaired, sewn up, and became ours. Perhaps my brother’s and my extreme frugality comes from this. But there was one problem. Mama could never serve the same thing twice in a row for a meal. Papa would be upset. And so she made something up, disguised all the left-overs.”
As an adolescent, Jorge played soccer with his friends in the neighborhood. He loved sports. And growing up, he had a passion for the tango as well. When he was twelve, he liked a girl named Amalia, who lived nearby. Today she still lives in the same quarter, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. “He always liked to joke, but he was a gentleman”, she says. “Our families, who were Piedmontese immigrants with good principles, thought we were still too young for love.” She does not think that her affection for Jorge was anything serious: “Of course not! We were only children, it was something very innocent. We grew up together, but I began to see him more when we turned twelve.” Amalia speaks of a sunny and tranquil childhood: “We mostly played on the sidewalk or in the parks in the area. We started to spend all our afternoons together.” She says that already at that time the future pope knew something of his vocation. “Once he said to me: ‘If you don’t marry me, I’m going to be a priest!’ So certainly the idea was already floating around in his head, but there were still a few years before he made the decision.” In fact, Jorge Bergoglio told a different story about the circumstances that led him to embrace the priesthood and to enter the Society of Jesus.
[Printed with permission from Ignatius Press.]
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