The fact that Pope Francis has only one lung is just one of 10 unusual facts about Pope Francis. Besides being a pope with one lung, Pope Francis has washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice, has been trained as a chemist, and has criticized priests who refuse to baptize babies born to single mothers, reported The Guardian on March 13, 2013.
For many Catholics and non-Catholics who are wondering whether a pope with one lung will have the strength and stamina to deal with controversial topics like sex scandals, Pope Francis’ life as a child, teen, young man, and former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio will speak for itself.
1. Born as the son of an Italian railway worker
Pope Francis was born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, to Italian immigrants Mario José Bergoglio, a railway worker, and his wife, Regina María Sívori, a housewife. Growing up among five siblings with hard-working parents gave Pope Francis the values which define him today; family, love, charity, humility, frugality, the ability to connect with people, compassion, and being down to earth,
2. Losing one lung
When Pope Francis was a teenager, he had a lung removed as a result of a respiratory illness and lung infection. According to lung expert Dr. Zab Mosenifar from Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, “Without seeing and testing him, I would comfortably say he functions at 85 to 90 percent capacity of someone his age that has both lungs and hasn’t taken such good care of himself.” Dr. Mosenifar also mentioned that Pope Francis lost his lung most likely more than fifty years ago when lung infections were treated via surgical removal instead of antibiotics.
3. A master’s degree in chemistry
After studying chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis received a master’s degree in chemistry. According to a Catholic Herald report, Pope Francis “studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.”
4. The Road Less Traveled
Pope Francis entered the Society of Jesus on March 11, 1958, but was not ordained priest until Dec. 13, 1969, because of his years of studies and pursuit of a variety of interests in philosophy, literature, and teaching. He was already 32. Despite his late start, however, Pope Francis was leading the local Jesuit community within four years, holding the top post from 1973 to 1979. Pope Francis’ life and focus as a Jesuit and as a unique individual continued despite being promoted to higher positions. Even after Pope Francis was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, he remained humble and spent his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions; tasks that are not usually performed by “superiors.”
“On June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires Feb. 28, 1998.”
5. Simple apartment, cooks his own meal, rides the bus
Becoming the new archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 did not change who Pope Francis was as an individual. He rode the bus, visited the poor, lived in a simple apartment, and cooked his own meals. Even in Rome, Pope Francis did not live in the archbishop palace but lived in an apartment where he continued to cook his own meals. Besides his low-key lifestyle, Pope Francis was part of a larger social entity by creating new parishes, restructuring administrative offices, and starting new pastoral programs such as a commission for divorcees.
6. The defender of the family who “washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients”
Pope Francis is the author of books about spirituality and meditation and is the co-author of the book "Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra" (On Heaven and Earth) which is available on Kindle. While he is an outspoken person as a defender of the family and is against abortion and same-sex marriages, he is also the same human being who, in 2001, “washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice” according to the Guardian.
7. Condoms “can be permissible”
Unlike many officials in the Catholic church, Pope Francis believes that condoms “can be permissible” to prevent infection. Also unlike many other church members, Pope Francis has never lost his connection with ordinary people. On March 13, 2013, CBS New York wrote that,
“He’s lived those 76 turbulent years on little buses and bikes and convents, in dusty lanes all across Latin America. … Bergoglio often rode the bus to work and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the Church.”
8. Pope Francis practices what he preaches
Talking about “social outreach” is easy, practicing “social outreach,” however, is part of the essence of Pope Francis from childhood until now. According to The Economist, Pope Francis told his fellow Argentinians “not to waste their money on plane tickets to Rome to see him created a cardinal by John Paul II in 2001, urging them to give it instead to the poor.”
9. The heart makes a man, not his clothes
When Pope Francis came out onto the balcony on Wednesday as new Pope Francis, he came out in a white cassock instead of the traditional red cape and papal stoll. “He even chose to wear his own, simple cross — devoid of diamond and jewels — as he stood on the balcony taking in the incredible scene below.”
10. Expect the unexpected
Even though Pope Francis was believed to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave in 2005 that elected Pope Benedict XVI, hardly anybody expected Pope Francis to become the new pope in 2013. Not only becauseof Pope Francis’ age or because of his Jesuit background but also because of his “association with priests involved in liberation theology, a movement previously frowned upon by the Vatican.”
Expecting the unexpected appears to be a major theme in Pope Francis’ life. Who would have expected that a child from a railroad working family in Argentina who did not become a priest until he was 32 would become the leader of the Catholic church at the age of 76?
Pope Francis faces many challenges as the leader of the Catholic church. However, if anybody can bring upon much needed change, it is – unexpectedly – a pope with one lung.