Pope Francis cares deeply about the health and happiness of today’s families. Shortly into his papacy, he announced that he would host an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss the pastoral challenges facing modern families. Only twice before in the 50 years since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops has a pope called an “extraordinary” synod, which signals the urgency and importance of the chosen theme. The discussions on the family began in October 2013 in Rome, and they have since sparked conversations in millions of homes and parishes around the world.
The pope continues to keep the theme of the family in the forefront through his speeches, homilies, addresses, and writings, and he is quick to share anecdotes from his childhood in Argentina to illustrate his points. Jorge was the eldest of the five children born to Mario and Regina Bergoglio, first-generation Italian immigrants. He grew up in a middle-class family in Buenos Aires near the home of his paternal grandmother Rosa, whose enchanting lessons in faith sparked youthful devotion.
But Jorge was not an overly pious boy: he played soccer and basketball, had a lively sense of humor, and liked to dance (the milonga more than the tango, for those who care to know). Although he was a voracious reader and a strong student, he preferred the outdoors to any indoor activity, including listening to the radio or practicing piano.
When his mother became seriously ill after giving birth to his youngest sister, Jorge learned to cook for the family and discovered that he enjoyed cooking—especially pasta and “a good meat stew.” As a teenager, he worked as a janitor at the stocking factory where his father worked as an accountant.
Before joining the Jesuits, studied chemistry and worked for a few years as a technologist in the foods section of a local laboratory. He doubted his vocation once, early in his seminary days, after meeting a certain girl at a family wedding. Her beauty and intellectual radiance “dazzled” him and left him sleepless for a week.
Pope Francis’s rich and varied life experience helps explain his knack for painting a colorful picture of family life or giving a memorable lesson on love and forgiveness. “I always give this advice to newlyweds,” he says: “Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them! But never end the day without making peace! Never!”
Pope Francis addresses the splendor and struggles of married love, the joys and troubles of ordinary Christian families, and the family’s mission to be leaven in the world. He speaks from the heart more often than not, almost as if he were seated beside you at a kitchen table. That is intentional on his part: he prefers simple words to prepared speeches because he genuinely wants to connect with each person he encounters.
Try to imagine Pope Francis sitting with you and conversing with you, as a good friend or family member might do, his eyes bright with warmth and his voice brimming with encouragement.