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Pope Francis: Key dates

On his first trip out of Rome in July 2013, to the Italian island of Lampedusa, he criticises the 'globalisation of indifference' over migrants.

As Pope Francis, 84, recovers from surgery earlier this month, AFP looks back on key dates in his life: 

– Born in Buenos Aires – 

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is born on December 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires to a bookkeeper and a housewife from an Italian emigrant family. He attends a state-run school and studies to become a chemical technician.

Shortly before he turns 17, he feels he has a religious vocation, and on September 21, 1953, decides to enter the priesthood.

– Jesuit –

He joins the Jesuit order as a novice in 1958 and is ordained as a priest on December 13, 1969.

In 1971-72 Francis completes his studies in Spain, becoming master of novices of the Argentinian Jesuits on his return to his homeland. 

At the age of 36 he is named leader of Argentina’s Jesuits in 1973 and is elected Procurator of Argentina’s Jesuits in 1987.

Tensions arise in the order, and in 1990 he is exiled to Argentina’s second city Cordoba and demoted to ordinary priest.

– Archbishop, then cardinal –

Pope John Paul II approves his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires in 1992 and he becomes archbishop of the capital six years later.

The Polish pontiff makes him a cardinal on February 21, 2001.

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– Runner-up, then pope –

After the death of John Paul II in April 2005, he scores a distant second to the future Pope Benedict XVI in the vote by the conclave of cardinals to decide the successor, according to historians.

On March 13, 2013, after Benedict’s historic decision to retire, Bergoglio, at the age of 76, is elected pope, taking the name Francis.

– Migrant plight –

On his first trip out of Rome in July 2013, to the Italian island of Lampedusa, he criticises the “globalisation of indifference” over migrants.

In December that year he is named person of the year by US magazine Time.

In April 2016 he visits the Greek island of Lesbos at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis and returns to Rome with three families of Syrian Muslims.

– Climate change –

In June 2015 Francis throws the weight of the Church behind efforts to curb carbon emissions, warning of an impending disaster created by wealthy countries.

– Reaching out to Orthodox –

In 2016 he embraces Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in the first such meeting since a schism in Christianity nearly 1,000 years earlier.

– The family –

The same year Francis issues updated Church guidelines on family life, easing, but not reversing, the Church’s stance on issues such as divorce and homosexuality.

– Protestants –

In October he visits Sweden for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

– The Rohingya –

At the end of 2017 he meets refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, describing them as Rohingya, using a politically divisive name.

– Sex abuse –

He admits in April 2018 that he made “grave mistakes” in his handling of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church in Chile.

– Breakthrough with China –

A historic accord is agreed on September 22, 2018, with China, giving Beijing and the Vatican a joint say in appointing Catholic bishops in the Asian giant.

– Muslims –

In 2019, in a boost for ties with the Islamic world after years of cool relations, he issues a joint call for freedom of belief with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s seat of learning.

During the first-ever papal visit to Iraq in March 2021 he has a historic meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of Shiite Islam’s top clerics.

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