A very articulate and eloquent pastor … “a good communicator.” The description of Pope Francis is from Jesuit Father Alfonso José Gomez who, like the pope, is a former provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina-Uruguay. He entered the province of Argentina when then-Father (later Cardinal-Archbishop) Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the provincial (1973-79). Currently, Father Gomez is on sabbatical in California, taking English classes at Jesuit-administered Santa Clara University in Santa Clara. Then he will return to serve as a theology professor at Argentina’s prestigious Catholic University of Cordoba, operated by the Jesuits.Between classes, Father Gomez shared his memories and thoughts of his countryman and fellow Jesuit in a telephone interview with The Tidings, noting that the pope uses “simple words to convey a profound content that comes from the heart. He definitely has the personality of a good communicator.” Alfonso Gomez was a young university student studying civil engineering when he applied to the Jesuits. He was pleasantly surprised when he received a handwritten letter from Father Jorge (as the pope is popularly known in Argentina) welcoming him into the religious community with an introductory sentence that he will never forget. “Thank you for reminding me of my vocation when I decided for a religious life as a university student, just like you,” wrote the provincial.“It was a very affectionate letter,” said Father Gomez, and it increased his desire to join the community. In a face-to-face interview with the future pope as part of the acceptance process, “I left with a very good impression of him,” said Father Gomez.“He [the pope] has always been the kind of person that lifts the phone himself to answer a call. He doesn’t need a personal secretary; no bureaucracy. And he behaved the same way as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.”‘He did all he could’Chemistry student Bergoglio had joined the Jesuits as a young adult; at 37 he was named provincial (probably the youngest provincial in the world) after serving as master of novices. As a provincial he made important decisions in the educational and parochial missions of the Society during a critical political period in Argentina.During the 1970s military dictatorship in Argentina, two Jesuits accused of supporting urban guerrillas were kidnapped by the military. The controversy over what could or should have been done by the future pope is overblown, said Father Gomez.“When a war starts, the first thing that is lost is the truth,” he said, “so it is difficult to say what else he could have done during times of confrontation between the military and civilians and what the Society of Jesus was going through. I know two Jesuits who witnessed the process, and they think that the [future] pope did all that he could to support the kidnapped priests.”And in the authorized biographical interview “El Jesuita” (The Jesuit), two important Argentine figures, Nobel Peace Prize Adolfo Perez Esquivel and former secretary of social development and human rights activist Graciela Fernández Meijide, speak in favor of Father Bergoglio during those difficult moments for the Jesuits and the nation. Meijide’s 17-year-old son was kidnapped and disappeared during the dictatorship.‘A strong Ignatian man’The new pope “very much values” Ignatian Spirituality, said Father Gomez. He was a frequent speaker at conferences, “making an effort to transmit the truth of the Gospel,” according to the Jesuit charism of “finding God in all things,” and being “a contemplative in action.”“So these are his roots. He is a strong Ignatian man; he vibrates with this. He is a good man of government as well.” As a provincial, Father Bergoglio moved the central office from Buenos Aires to a larger building in San Miguel, about 17 miles northwest, which provided better housing for the novices.“He was also very creative on calling the Jesuits to do pastoral work,” said Father Gomez. “Very creative in assigning missions; he favored vocations, which increased during his term.”His term as provincial also coincided with Argentina’s increased debt and one of the worst inflations in its history. To weather the financial storm, Father Bergoglio oversaw the sale of some Jesuit properties. At the same time he strengthened the Catholic University of Cordoba and its Theology and Philosophy faculty, as well as those in Jesuit-operated elementary and high schools.Accordingly, Father Bergoglio continued developing the Fe y Alegría (Faith and Happiness) network of elementary schools, located in less fortunate areas of Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires, providing high quality education.“Education is a means of development, of social promotion, of social leadership,” noted Father Gomez, “and Father Jorge valued the work of Jesuits with the less fortunate.” So he sent them to the most impoverished areas and stressed the importance of their consideration of the people’s religiosity and popular faith values, such as pilgrimages, popular feasts, or visits to sanctuaries.“Reflection based only on books might not lead you to value these traditions,” Father Gomez pointed out. “But he was always very respectful, which made fertile soil for evangelization.”Later, as cardinal-archbishop of Argentina’s largest diocese, the future Pope Francis took “good care of the priests, just as a good shepherd does,” said Father Gomez. He accompanied the priests in their journey, helping them see the importance of preaching the Gospel through their social service, by “being a mediator between God and people.”And with his example, said Father Gomez, he has inspired many people to follow religious life, including a nephew, Jesuit Father José Luis Narvaja, also a member of the Argentine-Uruguay Province (the two provinces merged under Father Gomez’ leadership in 2010).With his ascendance to the papacy, Father Gomez added, “the pope invites us with even more strength to continue with our vows of obedience.“Argentinians are proud of him; he is now one of the great historical figures of contemporary Argentina. In recent history our country has only delivered and received bad news. But with Pope Francis, now we have someone who will lead a process of growth in Argentina and the world, following our destiny, which is to look at each other as brothers and sisters.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0405/argjesuit/{/gallery}