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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ChurchMilitant.com) - A native son of Argentina, the former archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis, spoke about machinations leading to his election, his health and whether he will return to his country of birth.
Answering whether he will return to Argentina — a question that has piqued the interest of many Argentines — the pope told an Argentinian interviewer, "I'm not going back to Argentina." This comes despite his trips to neighboring Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile since his ascension to the papacy in 2014.
Speaking of his health to reporter Nelson Castro of Argentina's newspaper of record, La Nación, Francis recalled that as a 21-year-old, he was hospitalized during what he said was a flu outbreak in 1957 at the Inmaculada Concepción Seminary where he studied. He said that, unlike his colleagues (who promptly improved), he had a lingering fever and respiratory distress despite treatment. Since his condition did not improve, the seminary sent him to a pneumonologist for evaluation. At a Buenos Aires hospital, he was told that he had cysts and bleeding in the lower lobe of his right lung that were causing pain. Doctors conducted a pleural tap of his lung to remove fluids. He recalled that in October 1957, surgeons removed the affected lobe of his lung.
"It was a difficult time," the future pope said, adding that he suffered severe pain after his surgery. However, he said that because his "right lung expanded" to fill the space left by the extirpated lobe, he suffered no ensuing limitations on his activities. This became an issue in 2014 after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI while his fellow cardinals were considering his candidacy to fill the vacancy. His breathing posed a possible stumbling block to his election.
Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras has proffered insight about Bergoglio's health. Rodríguez Maradiaga would not say exactly what happened during negotiations during the conclave to choose a new pontiff; however, he said, "When the figure of the archbishop of Buenos Aires began to emerge as the new possible pope, they began to move to stop the plan of God that was about to materialize." The Honduran clergyman did not identify the parties supporting another papabile candidate but said that rumors circulated that Bergoglio was ill and missing a lung. Mustering courage, Rodríguez Maradiaga went directly to Bergoglio to verify whether he was healthy enough for the proposed job. He said that this was a "real relief" that confirmed that the "Holy Spirit, despite the opposition from the cliques, was breathing upon the right person."
As for now, Pope Francis told his interviewer that at the age of 82, his health is good and "full of energy."
Born in 1936, the future pope joined the Jesuit order in 1958 and made his solemn vows in 1973. During that same year, he became the provisional superior of the Jesuits in Argentina and served a six-year term — a reportedly unprecedented feat for a man of his age. Argentina, which had been one of the 10 richest countries in the world during the first decade of the 20th century, experienced tremendous economic and political instability throughout Bergoglio's lifetime. President Juan Perón (1946–55) inaugurated a populist political movement, Justicialism, that combined elements of nationalism, fascism and traditionalism that eventually put him at odds with the United States and the Catholic Church. Perón was overthrown in a military coup in 1955 and fled to Spain, where he lived until returning to Argentina in 1973.
Before Perón's return, there were both right-wing and left-wing factions of Peronism that looked to him for leadership. Once he was back in power, Perón showed his affinity for the military, which began making summary arrests of students, leftists, dissidents and democracy advocates. After his 1974 death, the pace of assassinations and bombings by leftists and retaliation by security forces quickened. Argentina became a byword for the abuse of human rights and "disappearances" — the euphemism that the government used to refer to those whose bodies were missing.
Like many of those whose homeland is the nation of Argentina (which has the highest percentage of psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and psychologists in the world), Pope Francis said that he never did need psychoanalysis. However, he did consult a psychiatrist in the 1970s whom he called a "great woman" and who helped him in reading the psychological exams of novice seminarians. "So, for six months," he said, "I consulted her once each week" to deal with fears and making decisions during the military dictatorship of the 1970s.
Members of the clergy were divided over the turbulent 1970s, which saw the return of former-president Juan Perón, whose death was followed by his widow's ineffectual term in the presidency under the tutelage of the military. During the 1970s, thousands of Argentines and some foreigners were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, raped and, ultimately, murdered. Members of the clergy responded in various ways, given that the dictatorship and resistance to it occurred during the wider conflict between the United States and its allies against communist countries.
While some clergy expressly supported the military as guarantors of traditional values and others sought to prevent radicalization of any sector of the Church, there were those, like Bergoglio, who took another path. According to Aldo Duzdevich, a former leftist who penned Salvados por Francisco (Saved by Francis), Bergoglio took a third way.
At the time, Bergoglio was rector of the Jesuit Colegio Máximo and at San Miguel University in the Buenos Aires suburbs. He was able to hide people, some of whom were priests, giving the slip to security forces. Duzdevich wrote in his book, "Bergoglio accepted a role that combined ambiguity and dissimulation in order to move in an environment of distrust and hostility." At the time, some members of the clergy sought to confront the dictatorship head-on, resulting in their deaths. Bergoglio, according to Duzdevich, chose not to make statements which, while heroic, were not as effective at saving lives as his covert role.
"Imagine what it's like to take a person hidden in a car, covered only by a blanket," Francis told Castro, "and cross three military checkpoints" near a base. "The stress it caused me was enormous," he added. Psychiatric treatment, said Francis, helped to "calm me and learn to manage my anxiety and avoid hastiness when making decisions." He said he is grateful to the woman, "a good person" whose "teachings are of great use to me today."
Pope Francis said he is "very open" to psychology and that "the study of psychology is necessary for priests," but counseled against combining the roles of priest and therapist. "Neuroses are one's life companions," he said, adding that one should know what they and "our spiritual sicknesses" are. He confessed to having anxiety neurosis. "When I'm in a situation or must confront a problem that causes anxiety, I control it," he said.
The pope said he does not think of death but imagines that when the time comes, he will be a serving pope or pope emeritus.
In an email message to Church Militant, Argentine author Juan Carlos Monedero wrote that the pope's interview with La Nación repeats a common theme in earlier interviews: Pope Francis himself. Monedero wrote, "'Bergoglio the man' displaces 'Francis, Vicar of Christ.' Bergoglio's human dimension does not serve as a support for the supernatural mission of popes; instead, it has nearly eclipsed that mission."
Monedero went on to write that while Francis does not appear to have denied the action of grace, dogma, mysteries or commandments,
He does not speak of them; he doesn't focus on them. Bergoglio does not speak about matters for which he was consecrated as pontiff; he doesn't talk about what a pope should talk about. The world is dying for the lack of God, and he (Francis) has the opportunity to soothe that this with his words.
According to Monedero, apart from the saying that Francis foresees dying as pope or pope emeritus, Francis' belief that he will not return to Argentina reveals two things: (1) His "resignation is not impossible," and (2) "He gains nothing by returning to the country where everyone knows who he is."