#InContext: Pope Francis

by | Oct 28, 2021

“Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.”

– Pope Francis

Before Pope Francis became an internationally known advocate for social justice, he was Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Born in 1936 to a family of Italian Immigrants in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he originally set out to become a chemical technician. Shortly after graduating, however, he felt drawn to the church instead. At the age of 22, he began his religious journey by entering the Society of Jesus novitiate. Jorge studied humanities and earned a master’s in philosophy. He also earned a degree in theology while teaching high school literature and psychology. 

Bergoglio quickly moved up the ranks of the Catholic order, each appointment marked by new hardships for his country. How Bergoglio responded to these trials would set the tone for his career as an advocate for the persecuted and poor. His tenure as head of the Jesuit order in Buenos Aires began at the same time Jorge Videla led a military coup to take over the country in the 1970s. The coup led to the infamous “Dirty War,” an operation launched by Videla to eliminate those he believed to be his political opponents. During this time, Bergoglio is claimed to have hidden people from the military and police to prevent them from becoming victims of the “forced disappearances” that were occurring across the country. Shortly after the military dictatorship ended, Bergoglio was appointed as the archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. His appointment coincided with a severe economic crisis in Argentina, which sparked much of his passion for caring for the poor. As archbishop, Bergoglio chose to live a life of humility and meekness alongside those suffering economically in Argentina. He elected to move into a modest apartment instead of the archbishop’s residence. He was often seen taking public transportation as opposed to being chauffeured in a limousine. 

Bergoglio was named the 226th pope for the Roman Catholic Church in 2013. He intentionally chose to take the name Pope Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, known as having lived a humble life of service to the poor. In choosing Saint Francis as his namesake, he communicated to the Catholic Church his commitment to the world’s impoverished communities. His confirmation made him the first non-European and the first priest of the Jesuit order to be pope. 

Perhaps owing to his unconventional background and first-hand experience with crises, he has used his platform to advocate for inclusion and speak out against injustice and economic inequality. Pope Francis was often heard saying, “My people are poor and I am one of them.” In keeping with the example he set as archbishop, Pope Francis continues to live in an unassuming apartment instead of the Vatican, breaking from the tradition of Popes past. 

Pope Francis has also taken up the issue of human trafficking. During his tenure as archbishop, Pope Francis created an annual Mass dedicated to victims of human trafficking. Once Pope, he traveled to Brazil for the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil in 2014 for which he selected the theme “Brotherhood and Human Trafficking.”  In a letter addressed to all Brazilians in advance of the conference, he called upon the country to reject indifference towards the issue of human trafficking and to help others be free. It was in this speech that he exhorted the importance of human dignity, saying “Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.” 

Pope Francis’ commitment to caring for the poor connects to his passion to fight against human trafficking. Indeed, trafficking “thrive[s] in the incubator of poverty,” as its victims are commonly among the world’s poor. In an address for the 7th International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking in Persons, Pope Francis urged his audience to analyze the nexus between poverty and human trafficking and adopt an “economy without human trafficking.” This economy is created through economic opportunities that provide safe working conditions and do not exploit workers for labor or sex. It prioritizes justice. And an economy without human trafficking takes “patient construction,” which seeks to find long-term solutions to create safe employment and working conditions for victims of trafficking and the world’s poor. Using this roadmap, anyone can follow the example of Pope Francis—upholding human dignity by working to eradicate the intersectional issues of poverty and trafficking.

  1. See generally Jon Lee Anderson, Pope Francis and the Dirty War, The New Yorker (March 14, 2013), https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/pope-francis-and-the-dirty-war
  2. See Argentina Dirty War; Torture and Baby Theft Trial Under Way, BBC News (Oct. 28, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-54718440.  
  3. See Rachel Donadio, Cardinals Pick Bergoglio, Who Will Be Pope Francis, The New York Times (March 13, 2013), https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/world/europe/cardinals-elect-new-pope.html?. 
  4. See Biography of the Holy Father Francis, The Vatican, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/biography/documents/papa-francesco-biografia-bergoglio.html (last visited Oct. 3, 2021). 
  5. See Paul Vallely, Where Pope Francis Learned Humility, The Atlantic (Aug. 23, 2015), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/pope-francis-cordoba-exile-humble/402032/
  6. See John l. Allen Jr., Profile: New pope, Jesuit Bergoglio, was Runner-Up in 2005 Conclave, National Catholic Reporter (Mar. 3, 2013), https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/profile-new-pope-jesuit-bergoglio-was-runner-2005-conclave
  7. See id.
  8. See Kimberly Winston, In Choosing the Name ‘Francis,’ New Pope Sent a Clear Message, The Washington Post (Sept. 17, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/in-choosing-the-name-francis-new-pope-sent-a-clear-message/2015/09/17/b86b4132-5d6f-11e5-8475-781cc9851652_story.html
  9. See id
  10. See Donadio, supra note 9.
  11. See Devon Watkins, Pope Urges Global Finance Leaders to Reduce Economic Inequality, Vatican News (Feb. 5, 2020), https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-02/pope-francis-pass-inclusion-workshop-finance.html
  12. See Winston, supra note 14.
  13. See Andrea Gagliarducci, To Fight Human Trafficking – One of Pope Francis’ Core Commitments, Catholic News Agency (July 16, 2015), https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/32332/to-fight-human-trafficking-–-one-of-pope-francis-core-commitments
  14. See Message of Pope Francis for the Lenten Brotherhood Campaign in Brazil, The holy see (2014), https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140225_messaggio-fraternita.html
  15. See International Labor Organization, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour iii (2014), https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_243391.pdf

Want to learn more about our work?

Sign up for our email list

Related News

#InContext: Bell Hooks

#InContext: Bell Hooks

  Born on September 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and raised in a racially segregated  South, Bell Hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) grew...