As Jesuit provincial in Argentina, Pope Francis showed the abilities, prudence and shrewdness of a secret agent to save the lives of more than 100 people during the nation’s Dirty War in the 1970s.
This is the assessment of Italian journalist Nello Scavo, who has just released a book recounting Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s efforts in helping Argentines escape persecution by the military dictatorship.
“The picture that emerges of Bergoglio is that of a capable man, who acted with the prudence and shrewdness of a 007,” Scavo told Vatican Radio.
During much of the 1970s, Argentina was ruled by a right-wing military government, which “disappeared” thousands of left-wing activists and militants, accusing them of communism.
Numerous priests and religious were killed for their work in the poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, which was considered a communist act.
During this time, Father Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — used his position to create an underground network of assistance and escape for those targeted by the dictatorship.
Scavo, a journalist with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, said it’s not possible to give precise estimates of how many lives Bergoglio saved, mainly because he never wanted to talk about his efforts. He also did not collaborate on the book.
But the author cautiously estimates that “more than 100 people were certainly saved” by the Jesuit priest and many others — perhaps more than 1200 — were “indirectly saved” by his actions.
Ironically, at the time the future pope was accused of complicity with the regime, critics saying he was too silent about the human rights abuses taking place.
Scavo has titled his book Bergoglio’s List, referring to the famous list maintained by Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved some 1200 Jews from being murdered during the Holocaust.
Schindler, incidentally, lived for nearly 10 years in Argentina following World War II, while Pope Francis was a teenager and young adult.
News category: World.