Francesca Ambrogetti, author of a book of conversations with the then cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, reveals he was a shy man and that he would visit the poor without the press in tow
Andrea Tornielli Taken from Vatican Insider
“Many of his fellow countrymen are only discovering this now that he is Pope…,” says Francesca Ambrogetti, an Italian Argentine journalist who co-wrote “El Jesuita” – a biography of Jorge Bergoglio – with Sergio Rubin. The book became an instant bestseller after the Conclave last March. Ms Ambrogetti says many Argentineans are only getting to know their cardinal now. “He was very shy. There were so many beautiful things people did not know about him. Not everyone knew he used to go to the slums of Buenos Aires, the villas miserias, to meet the poor. This was partly because he usually didn’t have any journalists in tow.”
Francesca Ambrogetti is an easy-going journalist who doesn’t like lecturing colleagues and scorns anyone who describes her as Bergoglio’s “friend”: “I prefer to say that the cardinal and I had a relationship of enduring trust.” Vatican Insider met her on one of her visit s to Rome after the release of her book Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words (available on Amazon).
“The first time I met Bergoglio was in April 2001, straight after the Concistory in which John Paul II had created him cardinal. I invited him to a foreign press meeting. I remember telling him I would send a car to pick him up, but he replied: “No, tell me where it is, I’ll take the bus.” That was an answer I certainly wasn’t expecting. He turned up dressed in simple priest garb. I recall wondering whether it was him or an assistant of his.” That was when the journalist came up with the idea of writing a book of conversations with him. “Many journalists, not all of them believers, were struck by his words. Just like what’s happening now that he is Pope: he has the ability to reach out even to those who are furthest away from the faith…” A month or so later, Ms Ambrogetti presented her book proposal to the cardinal and got Argentine newspaper El Clarín’s religious correspondent, Sergio Rubin, involved in the project. “Bergoglio kept the proposal in his desk drawer for a long time. Then, after the 2005 Conclave, he gave us the go-ahead and brought us a large folder with all his speeches and homilies, asking us to use them as material…”
But Ms Ambrogetti was disappointed. That was not what her and Mr Rubin had had in mind. But before she dismissed the project, she asked the cardinal one question. She asked him what transitar la paciencia (Spanish for “travel through patience”), a phrase he used often, meant. “I remember his eyes lighting up, we had touched a raw nerve…He started answering the question and I turned my dictaphone on. If I hadn’t asked him that one question, the book would never have been written.” The book was long in the making. The two journalists met Bergoglio about twenty times between 2007 and 2009 and each meeting lasted at least two hours.
“One thing that struck me about this man was his memory. Even if two months went by since our last meeting, he was able to pick up right from where we left off, without the slightest help, without any written notes. He even asked us about things that were said by the by a long time back.” Francesca Ambrogetti was reminded of a meeting a distinguished colleague of hers once had with Bergoglio. Jorge Rouillon, a religious affairs correspondent at Argentine newspaper La Nación “was meant to go and have a medical check-up to sort out a health problem he was worried about. When he met Cardinal Bergoglio, he said: “Father I have to have some tests done and I’m a bit worried, pray for me!” “Of course!” Bergoglio answered. Fortunately the tests were negative and Mr Rouillon forgot all about his exchange with Bergoglio. Three months later, the two met again and Bergoglio asked him: “Listen, can I stop praying now?” The journalist had forgotten all about his request but the cardinal had not and had continued to pray daily for him…”