VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ nephew, José Ignacio Bergoglio, the son of the Pope’s only living sister, Maria Elena, this week granted an exclusive interview to the Spanish newspaper ABC. In the candid interview, the Pope's nephew describes his personal relationship with his uncle, recalls the career the Pope shelved for the priestood, and talks about the possibility of Pope Francis one day stepping down from the papacy.
Recalling the origin of the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s priestly vocation, his nephew — also known as “Pepe” —said: “It was a surprise. At first, his mother (Regina Sívori) didn’t take the decision well because he thought she was losing her eldest son. It was difficult for her, but once she accepted the situation she was happy,” the young Bergoglio said.
“The truth is my uncle had told my grandmother that he’d begun medical school, but ultimately he chose to heal souls. One day, his mother Regina entered my uncle’s room and much to her surprise she discovered he was taking a course to enter seminary. She found theology books in Latin. My grandmothers said: “Jorge, you lied to me.” To which he responded, “No, mamma, I am studying medicine … medicine for the soul.”
The Pope's nephew said the Bergoglio family had always been religious. “It was grandma Rosa who taught my uncle to pray,” he explained, “and his parents (Regina and Mario) handed on to everyone values that they in turn handed on to all of us. That laid the foundation of my uncle’s vocation.”
But as Pepe also explained, his uncle’s path to the priesthood was not without difficult choices, including the decision to marry.
“One spring day he was supposed to go on a picnic with friends. That same day he was thinking of declaring his love to a girl he liked very much, but he passed in front of the Church of St. Joseph in the Flores quarter of Buenos Aires and changed his decision. He went into the church to pray, then he went to confession and spoke at length with a priest, and during this discussion he discovered that his true love was for God,” the Pope’s nephew explained.
Pepe said Jorge Mario Bergolio has always been a thoughtful and attentive uncle, and “has always given good advice.”
“We have always had an excellent relationship and he has always supported us, near or from afar,” he said. “I remember him as being a joker. On the night of his election he called my mother (his sister Maria Elena) and when she asked him, “How are you?” he replied: “Well, my plump one,” and then he added: “I couldn’t refuse.”
“He didn’t want to be pope,” José Ignacio explained, saying: “Like every Jesuit he was and is a person who is detached, and then he felt very tied to Buenos Aires. Asked whether he wanted to become Pope obviously he responded ‘no’, but when he was elected he had no choice: he had to accept.”
“He knew it was God’s plan,” he said. “It seems to me the Holy Spirit is working in him, because I see him rejuvenated, easy-going, free, happy in the things he’s taking forward. As we know, when he entered into the Company of Jesus [the Jesuits] he wanted to be a missionary but was blocked by health problems. Instead, today he is doing just that and can allow himself this great luxury.”
However, Pepe recalled not only his uncle’s faith but also his passion for good cooking, in particular, Italian food.
“He knows how to make various pasta dishes,” he said. “He used to like to cook for his friends, to make his own breakfast and his own bed. Of course, today he can’t cook, but he gets up early, at 4:00 am, he makes his bed, he prays and he gets right to work.”
As to the future, José Ignacio Bergoglio said of his uncle: “Pope Francis is capable of making decisions and so if one day he feels he’s no longer able to continue, he can make the necessary one: to resign. But for now I think that he has the strength to continue.”