Miguel Ángel Fiorito and popular religiosity in Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s formation

José Luis Narvaja, SJ

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Since his election on March 13, 2013, among the many questions posed regarding the person and history of Pope Francis are those about the origins of his thought in general and of his theological mindset in particular.

Between 1968 and 1978, Jorge Mario Bergoglio finished his formation as a Jesuit and began his ministry as a priest, first as novice master and then later as provincial. At the time of his ordination (1969), he was almost 33 years old. In that era, one person had a great influence on him: Fr. Miguel Ángel Fiorito (1916-2005). He had been rector of the University of Salvador (1970-1973) in Buenos Aires and, prior to that, a professor of metaphysics, dean of the faculty of philosophy of the Collegio Massimo de San Miguel (1964-1969), and director of the journal, Stromata, in which articles by the professors of the philosophy faculty were published. Fr. Fiorito was an undisputed point of reference for his students, thanks to his intellectual and spiritual abilities.[1]

As provincial superior, Bergoglio would assign Fr. Fiorito to two important offices in the province: instructor of the “third stage of probation” (tertianship), that is, the last stage of formation as a Jesuit; and that of director of the Boletín de Espiritualidad. Most of the studies in Jesuit spirituality by Fr Fiorito belong to this period, especially his work on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and on spiritual discernment.[2] In this environment of formation, together with the formal studies in the faculty of philosophy, there was an informal intellectual sharing of readings, personal reflections and ecclesial and pastoral concerns. It is important to keep this theological dialogue in mind for it profoundly influenced the thought of the future pope.

These were the years immediately following Vatican II. The reception of the Council had occasioned contrasting responses in Latin America and a strong awareness of the region. The students and fathers of the College followed the developments of the Council with great interest and, after its conclusion, actively participated in the process of its reception and implementation. From a historical point of view, we are dealing with a moment of renewal that – stated in few words – was received in two contrasting ways. Some understood this “renewal” as change, and others as rejuvenation. The Church in Latin America found itself caught in the tension between these two points of view, thus not always with a clear orientation.

But in this period, there was a certain “way of being” in the intellectual atmosphere of Collegio Massimo. Study, reflection and sharing helped ideas mature, ideas which then took form in articles in the two publications of the faculty: the journal of philosophy and theology, Stromata, and the Boletín de Espiritualidad, aimed at spiritual and pastoral formation.

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