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Some of the Pope’s favorite memories, as he turns 86


Osservatore Romano | AFP

Pope Francis' birthday pizza in 2017

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 12/17/22

We pray for the Pope today as he celebrates his birthday!

Here is a brief selection of some of Pope Francis’ favorite memories, as he turns 86.

In 2018, he shared with some children about his first teacher when he went to school.

“My first teacher was called Estela. She was very good, and taught us to read and to write. I had her as a teacher from the first to the third grade, and I have always remembered her, even after I finished school. I would call her on the phone when I was young and later as a priest, and then again as a bishop. I helped her during her illness. She died when she was 94 years old, and I always accompanied her. I will never forget those special memories,” the Bishop of Rome answered.

Favorite games of Francis’ childhood

Another child asked the Holy Father what his favorite games were during his childhood. With enthusiasm, the Pontiff explained that he often enjoyed flying paper kites that he made with his friends. And then soccer, a sport he loved. “In my neighborhood, we organized soccer championships with all the children and also kite championships, to see who could build the prettiest and highest-flying kite,” the pope shared, adding that the carnivals in his neighborhood were also very nice at that time “because all the children would dress up in costumes and went out singing, and there was music, and we would even knock on doors and ask for sweets and chocolates from the neighbors.”

About the soccer games, though, the Pope said in 2019 that they couldn’t afford a leather ball:

“When I was a child I played with a ball made of cloth strips,” he said, “because at that time soccer balls were made of leather and were very expensive.”

The call to his priestly vocation

Another child named Malak asked the pope how it was that he came to understand that he should live his life as he has lived it. “I understood it little by little, in stages, because before being a priest I studied chemistry and worked for four years as a chemist. While in college, toward the end of my studies, I worked in a laboratory and I liked it. But at a certain moment I realized that doing this wasn’t truly fulfilling me, so it occurred to me that I should do something to serve others, like being a doctor, for example. In the end, one day, on September 21, the beginning of spring in Argentina – the opposite season for you since here in Europe September 21 would be toward the beginning of autumn – I felt in my heart that I had to be a priest.”

“It was like a ‘boom’ – an unexpected blow. So I continued working for some time, but this conviction continued, so I later entered the seminary. It was a sudden thing, I felt the call all of a sudden,” the pope shared.

This vocation was a surprise to his mother, he recounted, who thought he was going to be a doctor:

One day when young Jorge arrived home, his mother Regina called to him and said, “Jorge … you told me you were studying medicine,” struggling to hold back tears.

“Yes, Mom,” he replied.

“Why did you lie to me?” Regina rebuked him.

“No, Mother, I am studying medicine–for souls!”

His mother and grandmothers

The pope has often spoken of the important roles his mother and grandmothers had. In a 2017 interview, he shared:

Personally, I thank God for having known genuine women in my life. My two grandmothers were very different, but both of them were the real deal. They were women who worked, who were courageous, who spent time with their grandchildren … Always with this feminine touch … Then, there’s my mother. My mother … I saw a mother who suffered, when after her last delivery — she gave birth five times — she got an infection that left her unable to walk for a year. I saw her suffer, and I was able to see how she fixed things so as to waste nothing. My father had a good job — he was an accountant — but his salary would barely get us to the end of the month. And I was able to see how she dealt with problems, one after another … She was a woman, a mother.

Jorge is the oldest of his five siblings:

Jorge – born 1936
Oscar – 1938
Marta – 1940
Alberto – 1942
Maria Elena – 1948 (only living sibling)

His grandmother was fundamental in teaching him to pray. “I received the first Christian proclamation from a woman: my grandmother!”

When the war ended

In September of this year, he shared his memory of when World War II ended:

I remember a personal event, as a child; I was nine years old. I remember hearing the alarm of the biggest newspaper in Buenos Aires sounding: sometimes to celebrate and other times to give bad news. They would sound that alarm – now it doesn’t sound anymore – and it could be heard all over the city.

Mother said, “What’s going on?” We were in the war, the year 1945. A neighbor came to the house, and said, “The alarm sounded …” and she cried, “The war is over!” And I still see Mom and the neighbor crying with joy because the war was over, in a South American country, so far away! These women knew that peace is greater than all wars, and they cried with joy when peace was made. I cannot forget that.

The nun and laywomen who prepared him for First Communion

The Pope has shared his gratitude for those who prepared him to receive Jesus:

There [was] a religious sister who [led] a group of catechists; sometimes she taught, sometimes [it was] two good women — both named Alicia, I always remember.

And this religious sister laid down the foundation of my Christian life, preparing me for First Communion, in the years 1943 to 1944. I don’t think any of you were born at that time.

The Lord also gave me a very great grace. She was very elderly [when] I was a student… studying abroad, in Germany, and after I finished my studies I returned to Argentina, and the day after she died.

I was able to accompany her that day. And when I was there, praying before her coffin, I thanked the Lord for the witness of that sister who spent her life almost entirely in giving catechesis, preparing children and youngsters for First Communion. She was named Dolores.

Here are some key dates in Pope Francis’ vocational history:

March 11, 1958: He entered the Society of Jesus
March 12, 1960: He made first vows
December 13, 1969, just four days before his 33rd birthday: He was ordained a priest
April 22, 1973: He made final vows
June 27, 1992: He was ordained a bishop

Pope Francis
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