BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—For a man who has embraced humility, the new pope’s first moments in the spotlight must have come with mixed emotions, a fact perhaps best understood by the woman who has known him her whole life.
“Poor man,” sympathized Pope Francis’ sister, Maria Elena Bergoglio, his only still-living sibling, as she imagined his thoughts just before walking out on the balcony before the massive crowd in Saint Peter’s Square in his first appearance as the pontiff.
And yet, “how exciting, to hear the crowd changing, ‘Long live the pope!” she mused.
Maria Elena said she cried when she heard the news, and only wants “to give a hug” to her big brother, 11 years her senior.
Dressed austerely in a dark green sweater and with barely combed gray hair, she agreed to talk to dozens of reporters waiting outside her home in a middle class-neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Maria Elena said she never expected her brother to be pope.
“My brother fulfilled his duties, with increasingly more responsibilities, but I never believed this,” she confessed.
She said she couldn’t predict what her brother will do as pope, but noted that “his inclination” has always been “to work for the poor, the most marginalized.”
She offered a prayer “that the Holy Spirit will strengthen” Francis for his new role, and spoke of feeling pride “not only as a family but as the Argentine people.”
Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is the oldest of five children—three boys and two girls. His three other siblings, Alberto, Oscar, and Marta Regina, have already died.