Jesuit Father Hernán Paredes studied at Colegio Maximo San Jose in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a Jesuit in formation when Pope Francis, then Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was the rector and spiritual director. Fr. Paredes, a native of Ecuador who currently teaches at Loyola School in New York City, shared his thoughts on the election of his friend in an interview that will be published in an upcoming issue of JESUITS magazine. Excerpts of the interview follow:
How did you learn of the election of Pope Francis?
I was attending a Broadway show with Loyola School freshmen. At intermission, a student told me there was a new pope but he couldn’t pronounce the name. He showed me the news story on his phone. I cried and prayed for my friend. It did not surprise me that he asked for prayers from the crowd when he first appeared on the balcony after his election. He always asked for prayers, even in his e-mails.
What can you tell us about his influence in your life and vocation?
I am very lucky to have had him as my superior and spiritual companion and to call him a friend. I’m a Jesuit some 30 years because of him. I learned from Jorge … to be humble, practical and available. He wants priests who are faithful to God and willing to serve.
It did not surprise me that his formal installation as pope took place on Saint Joseph’s Day, when we honor a humble and faithful servant of God. As his installation approached, I traveled to Belize with 10 Loyola faculty members and administrators to build homes for the needy. That is the way Pope Francis would have wanted me to celebrate his installation.
What are some of the characteristics and gifts that Pope Francis brings to the church?
Pope Francis is a man who stands for and with the poor. He knows the poor by name, and I have witnessed this many times. Last year, I visited him in his office in Buenos Aires. Later in the same week, I visited a friend’s home in a poor barrio. Our friend praised then Cardinal Bergoglio for giving what money he had to help. He is known for his humility and generosity. Jorge was the community’s superior but he served others in so many ways, including cooking on Sundays for the scholastics.
What does his election mean for Latin America and the church?
It’s overwhelming. We are the Catholic Church, and the word catholic means universal. I’ve received calls from people around the world, in the United States, Ecuador, Argentina and many other places, and they are so very happy. … Long life to Pope Francis, the pope of the poor!