The Story of a Vocation
by Pope Francis
Pope Francis has often spoken effectively about the importance of Baptism, and on several occasions he has asked the faithful if they can remember the day on which they became a Christian. Jorge Mario Bergoglio retains a vivid memory of the Italian Salesian Enrique Pozzoli, who baptized him on 25 December 1936, as it is intimately tied to his vocation. On 20 October 1990, in Córdoba, the Jesuit typed out a detailed, six-page letter setting down his memories of Pozzoli, to fulfil a promise he had made to Salesian Cayetano Bruno, a historian of the Church in Argentina. It was the 29th anniversary of Pozzoli's death, and that morning — after having celebrated Mass for him — Fr Bergoglio sat down to write a long spontaneous letter. He immediately followed it up with another five-page letter to the same recipient with some of his “Salesian memories”. On this, the anniversary of the Pope’s Baptism, we publish, almost in its entirety, the first “account” dedicated to the religious in which “the images of the missionary, confessor, watchmaker and photographer” intersect and his story becomes intertwined, on more than one occasion decisively, with that of the Bergoglio family, as well as many others. The text, which up to now has been kept in the historical archives of the Salesians in Buenos Aires, is printed here in our translation, which has sought to preserve all the particularities and rare slips contained in the original. A few comments have been inserted in italics and between parenthesis. (g.m.v.)
2. Fr Pozzoli was very close to the Sívori family, mama’s family, who lived on Quintino Bocayuva 556. Mama’s brothers, especially the eldest, Vincent, were very close to him (he also had photography as a hobby). Mama’s brothers were also part of the Círulos Católicos de Obreros (I think on Bergrano street). Papa had arrived from Italy on 25 January 1929. He was from Piedmont (born in Asti) and there he had lived mainly in Turin (on Via Garibaldi and Corso Valdocco). As he lived close to the Salesian Church he used to go see the Fathers there, so that when he arrived — as a qualified accountant by trade [sic] — he already belonged to the “Salesian family” [sic]. They disembarqued from the “Julius Caesar”, though they should have sailed on an earlier voyage: with the “Princess Malfada”, which sank. You cannot imagine how many times I have thanked divine Providence! Papa worked at the Bank of Italy in Torino and Asti. Nonna, Doña Rosa Margarita Vasallo de Bergoglio (the woman who had the greatest influence on my life) worked with the newly founded Catholic Action: she lectured all over (I had one until recently, published in a leaflet, which she held in San Severo di Asti on the theme: St Joseph in the life of the maiden, the widow and the bride). It seems that my grandmother said things that did not suit the policy ... Once they closed the hall where she was to speak, and so she spoke out on the street, standing on a table. She knew Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti [sic], and she worked with Professor Prospera Gianassa (who had considerable influence on Catholic Action in Italy). But I don’t think that the political situation was the reason for emigrating to Argentina (she didn’t even have to take caster oil). One of my grandfather’s brothers had already put roots down in Paraná and the enterprise was going well. They came to join in the flooring business, a family business where four or five Bergoglio men worked. Papa was an only child and began working as an accountant, moving to Paraná, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. When he arrived in Buenos Aires he went to live with the Salesians in Solis Lane, and it was there that he met Fr Pozzoli who immediately (1929) became his confessor. He joined the group of young men that had gathered around Fr Pozzoli, here he met Mama’s brothers... and through them Mama, whom he married on 12 December 1935 in San Carlos. Papa told many stories about Fr Pozzoli and the other Fathers: I remember him telling several about Fr Carlos Scandroglio, when he accompanied him to assist the dying. Papa’s name was Mario José Francisco, and my grandfather’s Juan Angel.
3. Then came the Economic Recession. The President of the Firm, my grandfather’s brother (his name was Juan — like my grandfather — but his second name was Lorenzo) became ill with leukemia and lymphosarcoma. Dr Ivanisevich (who subsequently became the Minister of Education) took care of him but he died. The two events — the recession and the death of Juan Lorenzo — caused the business to fail. They had to sell everything, even their chapel in the cemetery (the four floor “Bergoglio Building” where the four brothers lived, still stands in Paraná), and my grandparents and Papa were left with nothing. I mention this because it was Fr Pozzoli who introduced them to a person who lent them 2,000 pesos, which my grandparents used to buy a store in the Flores quartier... and Papa — who had been an accountant [sic] at the Bank of Italy and the business’ accountant — took deliveries around. This shows Fr Pozzoli’s concern for “his” boys, when they were going through difficult situations.
4. I remember when, at the end of 1948, Fr. Pozzoli intervened so that I and my second brother might enter — in 1949 — as boarders at the Colegio Wilfrid Barón de los Santos Angeles in Ramón Mejía. There I completed sixth grade, in 1949, and my brother fifth and sixth in 19491950. Then in February of 1948, it happened that Mama had her last child (my sister, the fifth and last) and she was exhausted. It was necessary that the three eldest become boarders (my sister, the third, today the mother of a Jesuit and of a woman religious, was placed as a boarder at María Auxiliadora. Here, too, Fr Pozzoli intervened). As a family we always turned to him whenever there was a problem, or when we needed help or advice. He baptised us all, except my second brother because (in January-February 1938) Fr Pozzoli was in Usuahia. Several times during the year (generally for Sant’Enrico) he came to lunch at Quintino Bacayuva 556, the home of my maternal grandparents (Francisco Sívori e María Gogna de Sívori), and we would all get together there and celebrate with ravioli: he was the spiritual Father of the family. (...)
6. In 1955 he played a decisive role in the story of my vocation. On 21 September 1954 I got thrown from a horse. I met Fr Carlos B. Duarte Ibarra in Flores (my parish). I went to confession to him by chance... and there — and without sitting at the tax desk like the saint of the day [Matthew] — the Lord was awaiting me “miserando et eligendo”. Then and there I had no doubts that I should become a priest. I felt my vocation for the first time at Ramos Mejía, during the sixth grade, and I spoke about it with the famous “fisherman” of vocations, Fr Martínez SDB. But then I began secondary school and “goodbye”! I was studying Chemistry at the Scientific School of Industry and I used to pass long periods of time (especially in the summer) at my maternal grandparents’ home on Quintino Bocayuva Calle.
Strangely enough, I usually did not go to confession with Fr Pozzoli, but I confessed with some of the “giants” of the confessional: Fr Montaldo (doubly a giant), Fr Punto, Fr Carlos Scandroglio (even though I was a little afraid of him). But in September of 1954 Troy burned and I began a serious spiritual direction with Fr Duarte Ibarra, who passed away the following year in the military hospital assisted by Fr Aristi, a Sacramentine. I didn’t say anything at home until November 1955: that year I was qualifying at the Industrial School (it was a six year program) and I enrolled for technical chemistry. At home they were doubtful. They were practicing Catholics... but they wanted me to wait for some years while studying at the University. Since I knew how the conflict would end, I went to Fr Pozzoli and told him everything. He examined my vocation. He told me to pray and to leave everything in Go d’s hands. He gave me the blessing of Mary Help of Christians. Every time I recite Sub tuum praesidium... I think of him. Naturally at home the idea came up: why not talk to Fr Pozzoli? And I, with the best face in the world, said “yes”. I can still remember the scene. It was 12 December 1955. Papa and Mama were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. The celebration was a Mass (only my parents and the five children) in the San José di Flores parish. Fr Pozzoli was to celebrate it. Once the Mass had ended, Papa invited him to breakfast at the “Pearl of Flores” pastry shop (Rivera Indarte and Rivadavia, half a block from the Basilica).... Papa thought that Fr Pozzoli would not accept because he asked him if he could (I think that otherwise we would have gone home, six blocks away), but Fr Pozzoli (who knew what the topic of discussion would be) accepted without hesitation. What freedom of spirit and readiness to help a vocation! Halfway through breakfast the subject was raised. Fr Pozzoli said that University was a good thing but that things should be undertaken when God wants them to be undertaken... and he began recounting various vocation stories (without taking sides), and at the end he told the story of his own vocation. He told us how a priest had suggested that he become a priest, how in just a few short years he had become a subdeacon, then deacon and priest... how he had been given what he had not expected.... Well, at this point “finally” my parents’ hearts had melted. Naturally Fr Pozzoli didn’t end by telling them to let me enter seminary nor did he demand a decision from them... He simply knew that he had to “soften” them... and the rest took care of itself. It was just like him: “una de cal y otra de arena ” the Spanish would say [“lime and sand”, which is equivalent to the English “the carrot and stick approach”]. One didn’t know his intention... but he did; and generally he didn’t want to reach the point where one would recognize that “he had won”. When he “whiffed” that he was about to get what he wanted, he withdrew before the others realized it. Then the decision came on its own, freely from those with whom he was speaking. They didn’t feel forced... but he had prepared their hearts. He had sown, and well... but he left the enjoyment of the harvest to others.
7. I entered the Seminary in 1956. In August 1957 I contracted pneumonia. I was about to die. Then they operated on my lung. Fr Pozzoli visited me during my illness. During the second year at the Seminary a religious vocation had matured in me. And so once I was better in November, I didn’t return to the Seminary and I wanted to enter the Society. I talked about it with Fr Pozzoli, he examined my vocation and gave the green light. I made regular visits to Fr Pozzoli and to the Chapel of Mary, Help of Christians. But Fr Pozzoli was concerned about the time I would have to spend at home until March when I would enter the Novitiate. He didn’t like so much time out... even less so during the holidays. I don’t know how he did it, but he spoke with the Inspector and arranged for me to spend the holidays with the clerics in Tandil. Fr Grosso was the Director. At Tandil I met good clerics... One of them was Fr Wenceslao Maldonado... In March I entered the Novitiate.
8. There are two moments in my relationship with Fr Pozzoli that make me sad when I think of them. One was Papa’s death, on 24 September 1961. Fr Pozzoli came to the wake and wanted to take a photo of Papa with his five children.... I was “ashamed” and I arranged for it not to happen. I think that Fr Pozzoli was aware of my attitude, but he didn’t say anything. And to think that in less less than one month he would be dead... The second occasion was his death. A few days before I visited him in the Hospital Italiano. And he was sleeping. I didn’t let them wake him (I really was upset, and I didn’t know what to say to him). I left the room and stayed talking with a Father who was there. A short while after another Father came out of the room and said that Fr Pozzoli had awoken, that he told him about my visit and he had asked that, if I was still there, I come in. I told him to tell him that I’d already left. I don’t know what came over me, if it was shyness or something else.... I was 25 years old and in the first year of philosophy.... But I assure you, Fr Bruno, that if I could “redo ” that moment I would. How many times have I experienced deep pain and regret for my “lie” to Fr Pozzoli when he was about to die. It was one of those moments in life (few, perhaps) that one would like to be able to live over again in order to behave differently. (...)
10. What mark did Fr Pozzoli leave? First of all I refer to my family experience. If in my family today we seriously live out the Christian life it is thanks to him. He knew how to plant and make the foundation of Catholic life grow. There are vocations: my cousin Julio Picchi; my nephew José Luis (Jesuit) and my niece María Inés (Handmaid of the Sacred Heart): both my sister’s children; me.... And among my other nieces and nephews, who are younger there is vocational unrest. Furthermore, we five siblings have a life of faith, and this faith was cultivated by Fr Pozzoli through the advice and direction he gave my parents. When the five of us get together, the discussion always turns to Fr Pozzoli; he is a point of reference we carry within us, and my nephews and nieces (none of whom have met him) know who Fr Pozzoli is. He knew how to strengthen faith and piety in that group of young people whom he helped in their Christian life. He gave great importance to devotion to Mary, Help of Christians. And to St Joseph. (...) In short: he was a labourer for the Kingdom of God.
11. Well, Father Bruno, I will end here. I feel that today I have only done my duty. At my age one begins to accept that life “shows you where credit is due”, i.e. that it points out the people who have helped you to live, to grow, to be a Christian, a priest, a religious... And in recognizing the good that so many people have done me each day, I savour more and more the joy of being grateful. This is precisely what happens to me with Fr Pozzoli. Every day (sic) I remember him in the divine office when I pray for the faithful departed... And believe me that I do indeed rejoice with this feeling of gratitude which the Lord grants me.
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2014
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