Special Report: Behind the charm, a political pope
When Jorge Bergoglio finished studying chemistry at high school his mother asked him what he would study next.
“Medicine,” replied the skinny 19-year-old, according to his younger sister, Maria Elena.
Bergoglio’s mother cleared a storage room in the family’s working-class Buenos Aires home for him to use as a study. Every day, after his morning job in a lab, he would arrive home and disappear into the room.
One morning, though, his mother got a surprise. In the room, she found not anatomy or medicine texts but books on theology and Catholicism. Perturbed at his change of course, she confronted her eldest son.
“What is this?” she asked.
Bergoglio responded calmly: “It’s medicine for the soul.”
For the man who last week took over at the head of the Catholic Church, the shift from medicine to religion was the first of many in a career that has often defied expectations. It was also an early hint at what Argentines who know Bergoglio, now 76, describe as a steely determination – prepared even to mislead his mother – that lies beneath his charming and modest exterior.
“Jorge is a political man with a keen nose for politics,” says Rafael Velasco, a Jesuit priest and former colleague who is now rector of the Catholic University of Cordoba, in central Argentina. “It’s not an act, the humility. But it’s part of his great capacity to intuitively know and read people.”