BUENOS AIRES - Father Juan Isasmendi, from the Parish of Caacupe, a small church in the Argentine capital's poorest neighborhood, was sure his suggestion had almost no chance of success.
But as he was saying farewell to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio after having visited him in Rome, Isasmendi, the radio show host tried anyway: “Father, would you be interested in coming to the radio for an interview?”
Isasmendi knew that Bergoglio did not like interviews, which is why the response surprised him. “Prepare the questions and send them to me by email, so that I can see them.” The following day, Isasmendi got a call from Bergoglio, who accepted the request to be interviewed for La 96, Voz de Caacupe (Voice of Caacupe).
That recording, from Nov. 1, 2012, has become an important historical document since Bergoglio became Pope Francis last Wednesday. In the interview, Bergoglio spoke openly and in detail about himself, including the moment when he decided to enter the priesthood.
“It was a very nice interview, we had a very friendly dialogue,” Father Isasmendi told Clarin. “He talked about some very important things in his life, it was like he felt at home in Caacupe, and I think he agreed to the interview for that reason.”
Their conversation lasted for more than an hour, and the diocese uploaded the interview to its YouTube channel a few days ago so that the whole world would have access to these stories from the new Pope.
"Things you feel inside..."
Regarding his life's calling, Bergoglio said: “When I was young I would occasionally think about becoming a priest, but that was like how as children, you think about being an engineer, a doctor, a musician – you see someone doing that profession, and you consider it."
The future Pope Francis recalls one day, while a student of chemistry at an industrial college..."It was September 21 – I always remember this – I went out for a walk with some friends and I passed the Iglesia de Flores. I went inside the church, I entered, I felt that I had to enter, there are things that you feel inside and you don’t really know what they are. I looked and it was dark, a September morning, and I saw a priest coming. I didn’t know him, he wasn’t from that church, and then he sat down in the last confessional, on the left, facing the alter, and then I don’t know what happened to me.”
Bergoglio continued: “I felt like somebody grabbed me from inside and took me to the confessional. I’m not sure what happened there, clearly I must have confessed, but I don’t know what happened, and when I finished confessing, I asked the priest where he was from, because I didn’t know him,” the future Pope recalled. “He said ‘I’m from Corrientes (an Argentine city near the border with Paraguay), and I am living near here, in the rectory, and I am going to lead mass here occasionally.’"
Bergoglio recalled that the priest was suffering from leukemia, and died the following year. "While I was there I felt that I had to become a priest, and I didn’t doubt it,” Bergoglio remembered.
That was only one of the revelations in the interview. “We were just chatting and drinking maté,” said Father Isasmendi. “I have a friendly relationship with him, we have shared a lot, he is almost family to me.
“After a while he was telling mischievous jokes, and that’s what the conversation was like," Isasmendi said, speaking from his church. "You could feel his warmth, simplicity and confidence. That was the beauty of it.” Four months later, he was Pope.
Here's a portion of the interview: