| Pope Francis: A look at the life of the first South American pontiff!

Pope Francis: A look at the life of the first South American pontiff ~ Associated Press.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina‘s conservative Catholic church.

Known until today as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags in St. Peter’s Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening,” he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s Roman Catholics .

Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentina’s priests last year.

Bergoglio’s legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina’s murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church’s traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn’t stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, “this Church of ‘come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don’t come in, don’t belong,” to the Pharisees of Christ’s time — people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.

This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. “It’s a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,” Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict’s successor.

Bergoglio’s influence seemed to stop at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernandez, took over the Argentina’s government. His outspoken criticism couldn’t prevent Argentina from becoming the Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, or stop Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

His church had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to “medieval times and the Inquisition.”

This kind of demonization is unfair, says Rubin, who obtained an extremely rare interview of Bergoglio for his biography, the “The Jesuit.”

“Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He’s no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes,” Rubin said.

Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina’s top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Rubin.

That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship’s abuses after the 1976 coup.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church’s acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate “subversive elements” in society. It’s one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.

Under Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church’s failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era’s violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn’t forget that side,” Rubin said.

The bishops also said “we exhort those who have information about the location of stolen babies, or who know where bodies were secretly buried, that they realize they are morally obligated to inform the pertinent authorities.”

That statement came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church’s image than about aiding the many human rights investigations of the Kirchners’ era.

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina’s Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their “love for country” despite the terror in the streets.

bergoglio.jpgNewly elected Pope Francis I waves to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio’s later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.

But Bregman said Bergoglio’s own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. “The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support,” she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months’ pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family “too important” for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn’t know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

“Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn’t know anything about it until 1985,” said the baby’s aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother Alicia co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies. “He doesn’t face this reality and it doesn’t bother him. The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can’t keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is.”

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Fernandez. Their relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual “Te Deum” address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what’s wrong with society.

During the dictatorship era, other church leaders only feebly mentioned a need to respect human rights. When Bergoglio spoke to the powerful, he was much more forceful. In his 2012 address, he said Argentina was being harmed by demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power. The message resonated in a country whose president was ruling by decree, where political scandals rarely were punished and where top ministers openly lobbied for Fernandez to rule indefinitely.


vatican bank 1

Opinion Warning 2


| What’s next? Chavez’s death leaves many questions!

What’s next? Chavez’s death leaves many questions

Lateef Mungin and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN.



Will Chavez death set off shock waves across region?


(CNN) — Thousands of Venezuelans are expected to line the streets Wednesday morning as Hugo Chavez‘s remains are taken from the military hospital where he died to the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy in Caracas.

Presidents arrived in the country for the funeral procession, including Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools for the rest of the week and deployed armed forces to “guarantee peace.”

The death of the longtime charismatic but controversial leader Tuesday leaves many unanswered questions that Venezuela and the world must now grapple with.

Who is expected to succeed Chavez?

In the short term, Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over as president of Venezuela until an election is held. He is Chavez’s hand-picked successor and delivered the news to the country of the longtime leader’s death.

Chavez: From failed coup to presidency

Hugo Chavez’s legacy

Photos: Venezuela in transitionPhotos: Venezuela in transition

Hugo Chavez’s 2009 interview with CNN

Venezuelans remember Hugo Chavez

Photos: Celebrities and Hugo ChavezPhotos: Celebrities and Hugo Chavez

Chavez sings a tune with Larry King

Maduro, 50, has long been a high-profile face in Chavez’s administration. He rose from a career as a bus driver in Caracas to Chavez’s inner circle.

Venezuela’s interim leader thrust into spotlight

What is Maduro’s reputation?

Chavez minced no words in his support of Maduro.

“I ask this of you from my heart,” Chavez told a crowd in December about Maduro. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot.”

But other opinions are mixed.

Maduro has been Venezuela’s vice president and foreign minister and has been the recent author of some the country’s most radical policies, said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

“But he also has been behind some of the most pragmatic and conciliatory decisions, including the turnaround in relations with Colombia,” Corrales said.

When will elections take place?

An election will be called within 30 days, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Tuesday.

What power, if any, does the opposition have?

Though Chavez has held a tight grip on his presidency for 14 years, there is an opposition movement in Venezuela.

A coalition between former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski and a group called the Democratic Unity Roundtable has made the country’s opposition the strongest it has ever been, some analysts say. But, says Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the opposition may still not be strong enough.

“Capriles’ 11-point defeat in October’s presidential election, coupled with Chavez’s allies winning 20 of 23 gubernatorial elections in December, underscores the fact that the opposition still holds little power,” Meacham says.

After Chavez, a power vacuum

Will Chavez’s death improve relations with the United States?

Chavez, for years had a stormy relationship with the U.S.,and would stir up nationalistic sentiment and popularity by picking fights with the “imperialist” United States and its allies.

Senior American officials don’t expect the relationship to change dramatically — at least in the short term — primarily because Chavez’s system still exists.

He leaves the economy more equal, less stable

The post-Chavez era started out tumultuously Tuesday when Venezuelan officials accused two U.S. Embassy officials of plotting to destabilize the country and said it was expelling them.

The United States will stay out of the upcoming election, an Obama administration official said. But the White House wants it to be “free and fair and credible,” the official said.

The U.S. remains open to restoring diplomatic relations with an ambassador regardless of the winner, the official said.

U.S. open to ‘more constructive relationship’ with Venezuela

Why does the U.S. want better relations?

One reason analysts point to is Iran.

The U.S. may seek Venezuela’s help in imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, senior American officials said.

Iran and Venezuela have close relations.

Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Venezuela as part of a tour of Latin America. The two leaders vowed to work together.

Over the years, the two nations have signed more than 270 accords, including trade deals and agreements on construction projects, car and tractor factories, energy initiatives and banking programs.

The other is oil.

Will the death affect Venezuela’s oil supply?

It may, some analysts say — and that would be a huge concern for the United States.

Venezuela remains the fourth-biggest oil supplier to the U.S. market. If the power vacuum causes exports to drop, U.S. consumers could face higher prices and another hit to the U.S. economy, analysts say.

When is Chavez’s funeral planned?

Venezuela is planning a state funeral Friday that is expected to be attended by regional and world leaders and dignitaries, including Ahmadinejad. Chavez will be buried after the ceremony but officials have not said where.

What has been the reaction to the death?

Chavez allies, such as leaders of Ecuador, China, Iran and Cuba, expressed sorrow and solidarity.

Bolivian President Evo Morales’ voice cracked as he spoke to reporters, describing Chavez as someone “who gave all his life for the liberation of the Venezuelan people … of all the anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists of the world.”

Longtime critics had a different view, with some saying his death could be seen as an opportunity for change.

“At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy,” Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Opinions varied too among CNN readers who offered their thoughts on iReport.

“We can’t in the U.S. always looks at somebody and just label them as a dictator,” said Omekongo Dibinga, a motivational speaker from Washington DC.

“At the end of the day, he’s somebody who really wanted to help others to do better. For that he should be respected, even by those who did not agree with his policies.”

Carlos Quijada said he fled Venezuela 10 years ago as a teen because there was no future there.

“My life was completely altered because of that man. And I will not hide the fact that I am happy that he is no longer alive,” he said. “I left Venezuela because my brother got kidnapped, our house got burglarized, cars stolen, my parents had an import business and the currency control made it impossible for them to import anything anymore.”


Chavez Death 1

head_up_ass E