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placeholder March 18, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Father Olea reflects on the new pope

Rev. Mario Olea

I met then Msgr. Bergoglio in 2002, when I returned to my home country, Argentina, after 20 years of mission in Africa. I was living and working at the Guadalupe publishing house, founded a century earlier by my congregation of Divine Word Missionaries in the city of Buenos Aires. The new pope was then the archbishop of Buenos Aires and cardinal primate of Argentina. The archdiocese was initiating the project of a Catholic television channel to lure back many Catholics tempted by other evangelical churches. I worked with the project for a year and drew up some productions that were televised, until I was assigned to another department by my superiors.

The memories I have of the cardinal are those of a very humble person, intellectually well prepared but at the same time with the simplicity and humility of a highly sensitive human being. The faithful described him as a "real father" to them and there were many who had met him when traveling on the city subway, commuting as a simple worker. Those who recognized him and greeted him were welcome also to talk with him. He responded warmly to any questions about life. I remember seeing him from a distance in the subway, in a car full of clerks and workers returning home at the rush hour.

He is doctrinally conservative, we might say. His research interests are related to the needs of the poorest and most needy. The projects of a Catholic television materialized later, from 2005 to the current television channel, Channel 21, and a radio station for the city of 9 million people (http://arzbaires.c21tv.com.ar )

The new pope, Francis, is also a former basketball player, tango dance aficionado, film enthusiast of Italian neorealism and supporter of the soccer team of St. Laurent (San Lorenzo), founded by the priest Lorenzo Massa.

At 21, he became so seriously ill, he thought he was dying. Finally, he was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and had to undergo an ablation of the right upper lung.

He was president of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina between 2005 and 2011.

He has criticized corruption and human trafficking, opposed the decriminalization of drugs for personal consumption and urged young people not to trust drug dealers who he described as "merchants of death."

(Father Mario Olea, SVD, is parochial vicar at St. Joachim Parish, Hayward.)

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