Bergoglio’s Neighborhood; The Home That No Longer Waits for Father Jorge
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires longed to return to the priest’s home where he’d lived while serving as the vicar of Flores.
By Magena Valentié
March 16, 2013
[Translated to English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
[Photo 1: Chatting with the Pope: Sister María Lucía Fassono in the backyard of the home where the Argentine, before becoming Pope, had chosen to live in retirement.]
[Photo 2: On Easter and Christmas: Former chaplain Mario de Leone conversed with Cardinal Bergoglio when he visited the priests and nuns who resided at the Flores home.]
Joy, when felt deeply, hurts a little in the chest, as if the heart isn’t quite used to receiving so much emotion. This “bittersweet joy” is what remains in the priests’ home on Alvarez Condarco 581 in the heart of Flores, the town that saw the coming of age of Argentine Pope Francisco.
The same house where he’d decided to spend his retirement, once he turned 75. The place where he lived for five or six years when he was vicar of Flores, and where he planned to return when he retired. “I’d prefer that it weren’t on the top floor,” Jorge Bergoglio had indicated, even though that was the room reserved for him. “I don’t want to be above anyone else … better yet, on a bottom floor …,” he had humbly pleaded with the Sisters of Buen y Perpetuo Socorro, who look after the home.
On every walkway in Flores, there’s an anecdote about Pope Francisco from when he was Monsignor Bergoglio. But at the home in San Jose, where 28 elderly priests live, the experiences are burned into memory. Like the time Monsignor Mario de Leone, former chaplain at Escuela Lemos de Campo de Mayo, tired of always seeing him without a jacket in the dead of winter, said to him: “Hey, Jorge, how about I get you a thicker sweater?” [In response], his “colleague and neighbor” (part of the Jesuit seminary was in front of the military school), equally fed up with having to give explanations, sincerely stated: “C’mon, let me suffer a little like the people who don’t have anything to wear. I want to feel what they feel.”
Just as he finished [recounting this story], Father Mario swallows and stops talking. He’s seated in a wheelchair and now remembers that Cardinal Bergoglio will no longer come to visit him like every Easter Sunday and on Christmas afternoons. Such is the bitterness of the bittersweet joy of being a friend of the Pope. That they can no longer wait up for him, as he’s now far, far away.
“Monsignor arrived around 10 in the morning, and went one by one to the sick priests’ rooms. He’d listen to them, joke with them … it was very warm. Later, at about a quarter to noon, he sat down to talk with us,” recalls Sister María Lucía Fassono.
“We’re really going to miss him now that Easter is coming,” sighs the 73-year-old nun, who, owing to a weak back, walks slowly with the aid of a cane. Her face lights up at the memory: “He always brought us the gift of a little liquor, made with 73 herbs, that was very good for digestion. We drank a small cup after eating … We called it the ‘holy water,’” she confessed with a mischievous smile.
“Just yesterday Sister Asunción, who was the previous superior and is now in Córdoba, and who is a close friend of Monsignor, said to me in jest: ‘When the Pope calls, we’ll tell him to send us some holy water…,’” she revealed, unable to contain her laughter.
At the priests’ home, the bittersweet joy roams the bedroom hallways and the property’s colorful gardens. It’s present in daily Mass prayers and during lunch. There is lots of happiness for “Papa amigo,” but also a little sadness: “It’ll no longer be the same.” Naturally, no one plans to travel to Rome, since there’s no money let alone strength. But there’s also no need: they have all of Francisco’s teachings, well-protected in their hearts.
The Nun Who Goes to Sleep and Wakes Up Each Day With A Memory of the Pope
In her bedroom on the bedside table is the most treasured gift she’s ever received: a tiny ceramic hand with a sleeping child in its palm. “The Pope [Francisco] gave it to me as a gift. When he handed it to me, he looked me in the eyes and repeated the phrase: ‘Your priestly kindness sustains my life.’ I repeat this to myself every night before bed and every morning when I awake. Doing so gives me a lot of security. I feel as though I am that baby in the palm of God’s hand,” said Sister María Lucía Fassono, who is superior of Hermanas del Buen y Perpetuo Socorro congregation.
La Gaceta [newspaper] was delivered yesterday to her home. One couldn’t climb the stairs to the bedrooms, much less see the room where the current Pope slept for five or six years. “It’s now occupied by another priest,” she said.
A big smile lights up her face at the mere mention of Pope Francisco. “We knew him and loved him very much. He was very kind and a real father to all of us,” she said.
She recalled that some time around February 6 was the last day the sisters met with Monsignor Bergoglio. “It was a farewell gathering for Sister Asunción Amado, with whom he had a great friendship. She had to go to Córdoba for health reasons. She was superior, and I’ve since taken her place,” [Sister María] said with sympathy and humility.
“On December 25, he officiated Mass in the chapel and, as he knew he’d be leaving, repeatedly advised the rector to take good care of the priests living here,” she recalled with a smile. “The thing is that the majority of them are sick, and some can’t walk. We have a 93-year-old priest who is about to turn 94. He [Bergoglio] always came to lunch and visited all of them. So we’re going to miss him a lot,” she admitted with a gesture of resignation mixed with tranquility.
Mini Tourism in Flores: Visitors File Past the House Where Bergoglio Was Born and Lived in the Traditional Buenos Aires Neighborhood
Flores is a traditional Buenos Aires neighborhood with old, low-to-the-ground houses that coexist with modern buildings and large commercial growth. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born on Membrillar Street, where he lived until the age of 21, at which time he entered the Seminary. Since being elected Pope, thousands of people file past the house, which is still standing but has since been resurfaced with black marble and brick.
The brief tour includes the house of Amalia Damonte (to whom Bergoglio said as a child: “If I don’t marry you, I’ll become a priest”), [along with stops at] Cerviño School, where he attended elementary school, and Basílica de San José de Flores. It was in this church, according to his own account, that he received a message from God, asking him to become a priest. For that reason, it’s the Pope’s preferred church. “It’s unbelievable what is happening: many people who spent 20 years away from the Church have come to confess,” said the pastor who, like the Pope, is named Francisco.
The Pope left his affection at the priests’ home where he was going to live after retiring. The secretary, Hernán Daniel Guerra, has amassed many anecdotes, along with Francisco’s “autograph.” “His room was already prepared for him. He was a modest man who believed he was going to stay,” he said. From the drawer of the reception desk he removes a Christmas card with the Pope’s signature and says: “Do you know how valuable this is to me? Priceless … Whenever he came he didn’t leave without saying goodbye to everyone. What most stands out is his humility.”
The secretary chose [to share] one of many memories: “He always arrived by taxi. One time the taxi driver recognized him and said ‘Are you…,’ to which he responded ‘Yes,’ but didn’t say another word. When he goes to pay, the driver refuses, and monsignor says to him: ‘Relax, no big deal. Take the money, you’re working.’ And he paid him. Then he had to tell me what happened, because he got out of the vehicle and approached me smiling,” recalled Guerra.