The only still living immediate relative of the new pope is Maria Elena Bergoglio, who is ten years his junior. She lives outside Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires in a town called Moreno. They used to be five brothers and sisters. As Francis takes up his duties in Rome, journalists have beat a path to her door. Our correspondent in Argentina, Olaf Bruns, asked her about her now famous sibling.
Olaf Bruns, euronews: “Were you very close?”
Maria Elena Bergoglio, sister of Pope Francis: “Because of our age difference, I can’t really say much about him around the house, but he was always very kind, very protective. That’s the picture I still have.”
A photo of the boys’ first communion reflected the social standing of the family. “When Jorge Mario Bergoglio grew up”, Olaf asked, “Was there a woman in his life?”
Maria Elena answered: “In his book ‘The Jesuit’, he talks about when he made his choice to take holy orders. He was a normal young man, and, as he tells it, he had to choose between his love of a woman and his love of God. He was in love with a girl in the parish, and apparently she was in love with him too. The group had gone out to celebrate the first day of spring, September 21, and before going off to join the others he went into the church to say a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and he felt something. He said ‘I’m staying to talk to the priest’, and he never spoke to the girl again. He had found his calling.”
Another photo showed the whole family together – the son now in the priesthood.
euronews: “Where did the religious vocation come from; when did you realise that was what he was going to do with his life?”
Maria Elena Bergoglio: “I think it was the way we were brought up at home. Father and Mother had us embrace the faith since birth, and we followed their example. As for a religious vocation, it is a calling. Our religiously-based household probably led to it for him.”
As Argentineans have live through some tumultuous times, Olaf asked: “What do you say about the allegations that your brother was close to the dictatorship here in Argentina?”
Maria Elena Bergoglio: “I know for a fact that my brother never collaborated with the dictatorship – just the opposite. But people talk. False accusations. That sort of thing is destructive, and we have to be constructive. If you focus only on that, you participate in destruction. Let’s go forward. God may or may not definitively shine a light on those things; we don’t know.”
While Jorge Mario Bergoglio rose to the top of the Roman Catholic Church, Maria Elena has stayed in her neighbourhood.