Charity registration No. SC002876  
Sunday August 18th. 2013
How life in the slums changed the Pope please find time to read this.  As leader of Argentina's Jesuits, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a staunch conservative. Now, as Pope Francis, he has put caring for the poor at the heart of his ministry. Here, in a second extract from a new book, the writer traces Bergoglio's spiritual transformation. (This articled appeared in the last of two articles in the Tablet)
There are books on liberation theology on sale in the foyer of the Colegio Maximo Seminary, in Buenos Aires, which Jorge Mario Bergoglio forbade students to read when he was leader of Argentina's Jesuits in the 1970s and 1980s. To the side of the grand entrance, with its stone arches and heavy smell of polish on the dark mahogany, is a glass-fronted case containing titles like Labour and Capital and The Theology of Liberation and the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. But if the Colegio Maximo has changed, so has Bergoglio, who was an authoritarian conservative as Jesuit provincial and seminary rector, but has been transformed from the scourge of liberation theology to a Pope for the poor. Those who know Bergoglio well testify to the extent of that change. One of his former Jesuit pupils, Fr Rafael Velasco, now rector of the Catholic University of Cordoba, said: "Bergoglio was so very conservative that I was rather shocked years later when he started talking about the poor. It wasn't something that seemed at the top of his agenda at the time but clearly became so as a bishop. Something changed:'   The Pope's old friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, insists that "he has changed according to his life's experience". Fr Miguel Yafiez, who was received into the Jesuits by Bergoglio and is now head of moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome - said: "He did change. It was mostly when he was a bishop and an archbishop. Being outside the tensions and complex atmosphere of the Society of Jesus,  he possibly became more open to dialogue and more open generally'     What transformed Bergoglio? External events played their part. The end of the Cold War and the restoration of democracy in Argentina in 1983 after the fall of the military junta made working with the poor seem less threatening. But regular contact with the poorest of the poor in the Buenos Aires slums played a part. There, Bergoglio learned to see the world differently, said Fr Augusto Zampini, a diocesan priest from Greater Buenos Aires who has taught at the Colegio Maximo. "When you're working in a shanty town, 90 per cent of your congregation are single or divorced. You have to learn to deal with that. Communion for the divorced and remarried is not an issue. Everyone takes Communion:' Bergoglio never altered his doctrinal orthoodoxy on such matters, but he did not allow dogma to overrule the priority of pastoral concern. "He was never rigid about the small and stupid stuff;' said Fr Juan Isasmendi, the parish priest in Villa 21 slum, ''because he was interested in something deeper!' Bergoglio's visits to the slums brought him into contact with a huge number of ordinary people. One slum priest estimated that over his 18 years as bishop
and archbishop, he must have personally talked to at least half the people in the slum. He would just turn up, wander the alleyways, chat to the locals and drink mate herbal tea with them. Fr Guillermo Marco, his aide for eight years, said: "He doesn't see the poor as people he can help but rather as people from whom he can learn:' A new openness developed in Bergoglio. The man who once saw the poor as objects of philanthropy began, over his 15 years as ''bishop of the slums': to make use of the insights of liberation theology with regard to economic structures which were so corrupt that they constituted structures of oppression which were sinful. By the 2001 economic crisis, which forced Argentina to default on its US$94 billion [£60.7bn] debt to foreign banks, he had developed an understanding that what the poor need is not charity but justice. The "unjust distribution of goods" creates "a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers': he lamented. "Unjust economic structures" were violations of human rights. Throughout the slum parishes, Bergoglio and his priests put that into action. He worked to support the cartoneros - some of the poorest people in Buenos Aires, who make a living sorting through the city's garbage to find and sell recyclable materials. "Bergoglio helped them to form a union and to turn this work into something from which they can make a decent living," said the archdiocese's spokesman, Federico Wals. "He wanted to help them to protect their rights." This was exactly the kind of work which, two decades earlier, he had condemned. Gradually, Bergoglio came to see the value of what had been done by the followers of liberation theology. He began to pay homage to the sacrifice of those of whom he had once been so suspicious. In 1999, just a year after he became archbishop, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murder of Fr Carlos Mugica, the first priest martyred in the Buenos Aires slums, Bergoglio gave instructions that he be brought back to the district where he had exercised his ministry. He celebrated Mass and expressed contrition for "the complicit silence" of the Church at the time.   "History has its ironies," Bergoglio said when he went to the Catholic University of Argentina theology faculty in Buenos Aires in 2012 to honour the memory of Rafael Tello, one of the founders of Argentinean liberation theology, who was in his day silenced by the Church. Tello, Bergoglio now confessed, had made "one of the most important contributions" to the Church in Argentina. "Nobody who has opened up new paths leaves without scars on his body’ he observed wryly.  
Most recently, not long after becoming Pope,  Bergoglio privately contacted one of the liberation theologians most reviled by Rome, the former Franciscan priest Leonardo Boff, who had been condemned to "obsequious silence" and suspended from his duties by the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his theology. It is a measure of the extent of his turnaround that Pope Francis asked Boff  to send him his writings on eco-theology in  preparation for a major encyclical he is considering on environmental matters.   What shines through all this change is that  Bergoglio is a pragmatist rather than an  ideologue. As provincial in the 1970s, he was severe in his instructions to his Jesuits that  they must serve only in parishes and not in liberation theology's smaller, bottom-up base communities, where laymen and - women took the place of priests, and the poor learned to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Yet, as archbishop, he reversed this attitude, giving the exact opposite instructions. "If you can rent a garage and find some willing layman, let him go there, do a little catechesis, and even give Communion;' he told his priests.    But there was something more profound at the core of the change in Bergoglio's politics and personality. His key decisions are all made during his long sessions of daily prayer. It is difficult to overstate the importance of prayer in his life, said his former close aide, Guillermo Marco. "He liked to wake at 4.30 am. to 5 a.m. every morning to pray. He makes decisions while he prays." In Buenos Aires, he often prayed for two hours before the start of his day. Prayer was so important to him, said Marco, that as archbishop he would rarely accept invitations to dinner. "He knew that if he did, he wouldn't get up early, and he did not wish to miss prayer time. Bergolio struggled against his earlier  authoritarian personality to become the person he believes God wants him to be.   Mercy has been the greatest of Bergoglio's themes as Pope. "Mercy is the Lord's most powerful message;' he has said. "It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God - but we must do it:' From Jesus, he said, we will "not hear words of contempt or condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, that invite us to conversion. 'Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more .. : The problem is that we get tired of asking forgiveness:' From a book by Paul Vallely:          Pope Francis: untying the  knots