The Speech That Led Jorge Bergoglio to the Papacy

Vatican Radio has published an unofficial translation of the text of the speech given by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina to his brother cardinals during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings held prior to the voting to elect the new pope. 

According to several cardinals, the brief, but direct, speech could easily have placed Bergoglio over the two-thirds threshold needed to become the new pope.

Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the archbishop of Havana, had been so impressed with Bergoglio’s “intervention” that he asked him for a copy of the speech. On Saturday, Ortega stated that he had requested, and received, a hand-written copy of the text of the speech from Bergoglio. Later, the cardinal said that Pope Francis “verified his authorization for the dissemination of the text.”

In his intervention, Bergoglio made four points that highlighted the Church’s need for Evangelization:

1. Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

2. When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. (cf. The deformed woman of the Gospel). The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.

3. When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness (which according to De Lubac, is the worst evil that can befall the Church). It lives to give glory only to one another.

Put simply, there are two images of the Church: Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans; and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls.

4. Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, interviews with several cardinals indicated that Bergoglio’s speech was decisive.

“He spoke of the need for catechesis and the need to address the poor… the question of justice and the dignity of the human person,” said one U.S. cardinal.

British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop emeritus of Westminster, said, “Sometimes when you’re dealing with a crisis, you kick the ball in a different direction. And that’s what this pope has done. It’s to say: What I stand for is a particular gospel way of life and witness.”

O’Connor, who is above the voting age limit of 80 years old, did not enter the conclave.

“He speaks in a very straightforward way,” said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago about then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s speech. “And so perhaps--more than the content--it was simply a reminder that here is someone who has authenticity in such a way that he’s a wonderful witness to the discipleship.”

On Wednesday of Holy Week, Pope Francis gave his teaching, or catechesis, for his first General Audience. Consistent with his pre-conclave speech, the pope urged attendees to “step outside yourself!”

The full text of the pope’s catechesis can be found at Vatican Radio. Pope Francis ended his teaching in this way:

Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes - what a pity, so many parishes are closed! - in our parishes, movements, associations, and to "step outside" towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith. Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.

May you all live these days well, following the Lord with courage, carrying within a ray of His love for all those whom we meet.


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