“I started attending seminary in 1956. In August of 1957 I came down with pneumonia. I almost died. They operated on my lung. Father Pozzoli [a Salesian] came to visit me during my illness. In my second year of seminary I had begun to be aware of a call to the religious life. And thus, once I was well again, in November, I did not go back to the seminary: instead, I wanted to enter the Society [of Jesus, that is, the Jesuits]. I spoke with Father Pozzoli about it, and he gave me the go-ahead.” This passage was taken from a letter written by Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1990, and can be found in the book Papa Francesco e Don Bosco by Father Alejandro Leon, an Argentinian Salesian priest. This book was released March 3 by the Vatican Publishing House. In this letter — one of four published in this volume — Father Bergoglio looks back on events in his own family and life, such as immigration from Italy to Argentina, and the birth of his vocation. Many of these life events were heavily influenced by Father Pozzoli, Salesian priest, spiritual director and counselor to the Bergoglio family.
Papa Francesco e Don Bosco takes an in-depth look at the strong Salesian influence in Jorge Bergoglio’s education and family life. As the author explains in the Introduction, the book’s objective is to “tune in on the encounter between Don Bosco and Pope Francis with a simple yet complete approach … starting from his family’s Salesian roots, and from his immersion in the historical events he lived through, and a re-reading of his Salesian experience in these events, to shed light on the ecclesiastical dimension of the Salesian charisma as a gift and a challenge.”
Bergolio first encountered Don Bosco’s spirituality as a child. In the second of the four letters, also dating from 1990, Father Bergoglio explains how, as a young boy, he would take part in processions in honor of Mary, Help of Christians, and attend the Saint Francis de Sales Oratory; and how he knew the Salesian confessors of Saint Charles. For one year, in 1949, he was a student at Salesian College, in the city of Ramos Mejia. Bergoglio looks back on that time, and gives a true summary of Salesian pedagogy: “The College, by reawakening our consciences to the truth in all things, created a Catholic culture that was by no means ‘bigoted’ or ‘disoriented.’ Our studies, the social value of communal life, social reference to the poor, sport, competence, compassion…it was all real, and all of it formed habits in us that, when taken altogether, gave a cultural shaping to our very essence of being.”
The third letter dates from 1986, and refers to the experience of Salesian coadjutor Artemide Zatti, a personal friend of Begoglio’s who has been beatified. The fourth and last letter, from 1992, presents Monsignor Bergoglio’s homily given in the Cathedral of Buenos Aires on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. The book also contains the text of a conference that Father Bergoglio held at the Universidad del Salvador in 1976 for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Salesians’ arrival in Argentina.
There follows a chapter of memories of various Salesians who met Jorge Bergoglio from 1949 to 2013, the year he was elected Pontiff. There is also a section dedicated to the ties between the Salesian Family and Pope Francis, described by Salesian Rector Major Pascual Chavez Villanueva, his successor Father Angel Fernandez Artime, and the Superior General of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, Mother Yvonne Reungoat.
Completing the volume is a series of photos of Bergoglio from infancy to the present day, and historical photos, some over a century old, of the Salesians in Argentina.