(ANS – Rome) – As the days pass, new episodes and aspects of interest regarding Pope Francis emerge. Among them are a number tied in with the Salesian world. Besides his special devotion to Mary Help of Christians – displayed every 24th of the month at the Marian shrine at Almagro in Buenos Aires – there are others. The new Pope is also a Salesian past pupil.
In 1949 Jorge Mario Bergolio attended Wilfrid Baron Salesian School in Ramos Mejia, along with his brother. Jorge was in class 6B (photo above). From the list of prize-winners that year, we see he got first prize for conduct and for religion and the Gospel.
A detailed biography published by the Argentine daily La Nación also reports that when he was 17 the Pope had Fr. Enrico Pozzoli from the Almagro SDB community as his spiritual director. This priest, before bringing Don Bosco's charism to Tierra del Fuego, left an indelible mark on him. It was Fr. Pozzoli who suggested to young Bergoglio to go to the Tandil mountains to overcome an attack of pneumonia; it was he who helped the future Pope apply for the seminary at Villa Devoto; and Cardinal Bergoglio included a reference to him in the preface to his first book – Meditations for Religious – referring to the “strong impact” this Salesian had on his life, and the “example of ecclesial service and religious consecration” that he gave.
When he was 18, Bergoglio met Roberto Musante, two years older than he, at Tandil. In more complex circumstances he met Musante again later, e.g., when Bergoglio took in three seminarians belonging to Bishop Enrique Angelelli during the dictatorship.At Tandil, Fr. Musante recalls, the two got to know each other and talk, and Bergoglio “was rather quiet and humble.” The two young men then took different paths. Today Fr. Musante is a Salesian working in Angola, looking after hundreds of youngsters at Lixeira (“garbage dump” in Portuguese). Bergoglio, instead, chose to follow St. Ignatius Loyola.
Fr. Fabian Garcia, a former provincial in Argentina, shared with ANS some of his memories of the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. At the end, he said: "But of all of my memories, there is one that is strongest, most significant, indelible: a man of faith who, every 24th of the month, early in the morning before the doors opened, came to the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in the suburb of Almagro, celebrated Mass, and stayed a good hour praying before the image of the Blessed Virgin which had been blessed by Don Bosco himself [before the earliest SDB missionaries took it with them to Buenos Aires]."
When he was provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, then-Fr. Bergoglio saw that the number of brothers in his province and in the entire Society of Jesus had declined alarmingly. He turned in prayer to the Servant of God Bro. Artemides Zatti, SDB (now Blessed Artemides), and almost at once there was a striking upturn in vocations among the Jesuit brothers. As Archbishop Bergoglio he remained devoted to Blessed Artemides, who spent most of his life in Argentina.