VATICAN CITY - A self-described "homebody," Pope Francis will
make the 10th foreign trip of his pontificate in this month
when he visits Cuba and then, for the first time in his life,
the United States.
The visit of the 78-year-old Argentine pope comes in a year
packed with important events for him: the publication in June
of "Laudato Si'," his encyclical on the environment; the
world Synod of Bishops on the family in October; and the
opening Dec. 8 of a special Year of Mercy.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was
not a household name to most North American Catholics when he
was elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI March 13, 2013, but
his brothers in the College of Cardinals knew who he was.
The Argentine Jesuit had been second on the balloting in the
conclave that elected Pope Benedict to succeed St. John Paul
II in 2005.
His growing up with four siblings in a family with strong
ties to its Italian origins, his training and ministry as a
Jesuit - including what he says were mistakes as a provincial
superior - and his regular contact with the poorest residents
of Buenos Aires are influences seen in his preaching,
priorities, style of governance and, especially, in the way
he interacts with individuals.
The pope signaled just how strong those influences were
almost immediately after his election. The first sign was his
decision not to live in the Apostolic Palace, but in the
Vatican guesthouse where the cardinals stayed during the
He told reporters it was a matter of liking to have a lot of
people around and not a statement about simplicity or
austerity, although he said both are essential for every
minister in the church.
As he settled into his new life as pope, he shook up much of
what had become tradition with a small "t" in the Vatican. He
cold-called Vatican officials to check on the progress of
projects; he kept his own schedule in the afternoon, phoning
people who had written to him or inviting them over for a
chat; he lectured clerics on the need for simple lifestyles;
and he repeatedly condemned office gossip and clerical
Early in his pontificate, Pope Francis named an international
panel of cardinals - most of whom head dioceses, not Roman
Curia offices - as an advisory panel for church governance.
Their first big task, one that is ongoing, is to reorganize
the Vatican bureaucracy.
While the bulk of the project has not been completed, the
pope accepted the cardinals' recommendations to establish a
council and secretariat for economic affairs, a secretariat
for communications and a commission to promote child
protection. They already are at work.
Just eight months after taking office, Pope Francis published
his apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel," a
detailed vision of the program for his papacy and his vision
for the church - particularly the church's outreach and its
response to challenges posed by secular culture.
In the document, the pope called on Catholics to go out into
the world, sharing their faith "with enthusiasm and vitality"
by being living examples of joy, love and charity. "An
evangelizer," he said, "must never look like someone who has
just come back from a funeral."
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires Dec. 17, 1936.
He earned a chemical technician's diploma from his high
school and entered the Jesuit novitiate in March 1958.
As part of his Jesuit formation, he taught literature and
psychology at Jesuit high schools in the mid-1960s, and he
was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 13, 1969.
In 1973, he was appointed superior of the Jesuit province of
Argentina. "I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to
deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions
abruptly and by myself," he said in an interview after
becoming pope. "My authoritarian and quick manner of making
decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused
of being ultraconservative."
In 1992, Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of
Buenos Aires. He was promoted to coadjutor archbishop in 1997
and became head of the archdiocese in 1998; St. John Paul
named him to the College of Cardinals three years later.