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Argentine Pope: Bergoglio and the ‘Slum Priests’

Although many around the world admire him for not using official vehicles or for traveling by bus to visit poor neighborhoods, Argentines remember former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – now Pope Francis - for his work at the ”villas miseria“ –slums located in the country's large urban settlements.

The blog Bajando lineas [es] comments on Bergoglio's visits [es] to the slums:

El cardenal es un gran enamorado de esa religiosidad popular, dicen los curas, y cuentan que es bastante común que, durante las peregrinaciones juveniles a Luján, sea Bergoglio el confesor que se instala, sin que los jóvenes peregrinos lo sepan, en la basílica.

Tampoco es raro, dicen, que llegue de improviso a un comedor popular o a la fiesta de una Virgen en alguna de las barriadas donde trabaja el equipo.

The Cardinal loves popular religiosity, say the priests, and they say that it is quite common that during youth pilgrimages to Lujan the confessor Bergoglio arrives to the Basilica without the young pilgrims knowing.

They say it is also not uncommon for him to arrive at a popular cafeteria or a celebration of a Virgin in one of the neighborhoods where the team works.

The current pope pushed for the creation of “slum priests” (priests who work in slums) while he was in Argentina. Maria O'Donnel in La Vanguardia shares [es] their work:

Estos curas, muchos de ellos nacidos y criados en familias de clase media acomodada, reivindican la cultura de los barrios que habitan. Pelean contra la estigmatización, rescatan la solidaridad, las colectas ante cada muerte para que nadie sea privado de un velatorio digno, la alegría que no se rinde ante la adversidad y todo eso quieren defender ante la mirada que sienten prejuiciosa del afuera. Por eso hablan de integrar, antes que de urbanizar.

These priests, many of them born and raised in middle class families, are claiming the culture of the neighborhoods they inhabit. They fight against stigmatization, they rescue solidarity, they raise funds after every death so that no one is deprived of a decent wake. The joy that does not surrender to adversity and more, that is what they want to defend before the prejudiced eyes from the outside. That's why they talk about integrating, rather than about urbanizing.
Villa 31, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Villa 31, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image from  Flickr user christoph.wesemann, under a  Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Father Ismael Ojeda's blog [es] refers [es] to the relationship between slum priest ‘Father Pepe’ and former cardinal Bergoglio:

[...] el padre Pepe considera a Bergoglio «un amigo y un padre espiritual»: «Fue él quien me mandó en 1997 a Villa 21», al frente de un «equipo de sacerdotes» en una parroquia extrema, situada en una tierra de compra y consumo de drogas. Cuatro sacerdotes para cuarenta mil personas: «Gracias a él, a su presencia, hemos conseguido desarrollar muchos trabajos de prevención y recuperación». Gracias a la intervención del arzobispo, Di Paola se ha salvado: «Me la habían jurado, él me protegió».

[...] father Pepe considers Bergoglio “a friend and a spiritual father”: “It was he who in 1997 sent me to Villa 21″ in front of a “team of priests” in an parish far away, located in a land where people buy and consume drugs. Four priests for forty thousand people: “Thanks to him, his presence, we have developed many prevention and recovery initiatives.” Thanks to the intervention of the archbishop, Di Paola has been saved: “I felt threatened, and he protected me.”

In the post “Francisco, the pope from the confines [of the city]“ [es] , Eduardo Casas [es] summarizes the work of Bergoglio as cardinal:

El Papa Francisco se lleva lo mejor del Cardenal Jorge Mario Bergoglio para el ministerio de Pedro: sus viajes en el subte de la ciudad de Buenos Aires; sus visitas a la Villa 31; su presencia en las cárceles, su aliento a las escuelas, sus palabras a las enfermos de VIH, su paso por  la Compañía de Jesús de la ciudad de Córdoba; su conversaciones con los cartoneros y las víctimas de la trata; su capacidad de respeto, escucha y cercanía, su actitud conciliadora, su apertura ecuménica, su capacidad de dialogar y de decir las cosas tal como su conciencia lo dictaba y mucho, mucho más que sabemos y también otras que ignoramos.

Pope Francis takes the best of cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Peter's ministry: his commuting on the subway in the city of Buenos Aires, his visits to the Villa 31, his presence in prisons, his encouragement for schools, his words for HIV patients, his work through the Society of Jesus in the city of Cordoba, his conversations with cardboard collectors and victims of human trafficking, his ability to respect, to listen and his closeness, his conciliatory attitude, his ecumenical openness, his ability to dialogue and to say things just like his conscience dictated and much, much more than we know and more that we ignore.

Finally, this video from Telefe Noticias [es] highlights Bergoglio's work at Villa 31.

 

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