By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 28, 2013
ATLANTA—As a new student in 1962 at the Argentinian Jesuit seminary near Buenos Aires, Father Alberto Cabrera, CP, remembers how fellow seminarian Jorge Bergoglio stood out with his firm convictions and upright character. He now rejoices in his former classmate’s election as Pope Francis.
Among about 200 students at Colegio Maximo de San Jose, Bergoglio studied in the philosophy track and Cabrera began the theology program. There was minimal contact between the two tracks, but Cabrera had very positive general meetings with him a few times a year and found the tall, thin seminarian made a lasting impression.
“To this day he is very present to me. His personality impacted me—a fair and just man of strong character and studious,” recalled Father Cabrera, a Passionist priest who since 2012 has served as parochial vicar for Hispanic ministry at St. Paul of the Cross Church in Atlanta. He previously worked for eight years in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Father Cabrera was ordained in 1965 and went on to missionary endeavors. But he drew inspiration from the Jesuit’s strong, pastoral leadership in his homeland of Argentina as Father Bergoglio rose to be the regional Jesuit superior and eventually archbishop of Buenos Aires and a cardinal of the Church.
“He has been a man of great firmness and conviction as a priest, bishop and cardinal,” Father Cabrera said in a telephone interview March 15, following the election of Pope Francis. He spoke in Spanish.
“He’s a simple man of deep prayer and worked a lot with the poor,” reaching out to the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the priest said.
Father Cabrera commended his willingness to challenge the government of Argentina over issues such as poverty.
“In recent years, what I recall the most, he has been a pastor committed to the people of God. He knew how to denounce with great dignity and clarity the problems of our country. Unfortunately our political authorities didn’t know how to confront this reality and instead of thanking him considered him the enemy of power,” Father Cabrera said.
Father Cabrera believes that Pope Francis is the right man to lead the Catholic Church at this present moment.
“I think that his election as pope is providential. He is the man for today. For me, he is a great gift of grace from God for the people of Argentina and the whole world. With his gifts of humility and simplicity and all of his great theological and philosophical knowledge, I think he will give the church a great impulse forward—an impulse that will help us to recover values that with time have been fading. As a man of God and a man of prayer, I think that he is already projecting this charism that he lives. And it is so fundamental for the Church,” reflected Father Cabrera.
“As a Latin American, he understands perfectly the societal problems being experienced and is illuminating them with his teachings and example as an austere and articulate man. With his great moral authority, he will be able to illuminate and recover the values that are being lost in our society. For me, he is the man that the church needs today,” he said.