#RespectYourElders: Pope Francis, 83, is the head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City State. Francis is the first Latin American pope and the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.
At the age of 21, Francis nearly died from a respiratory illness that caused three cysts. He had a small part of one of his lungs removed to save his life. It was also around this time that Francis began studying at the archdiocesan seminary in Buenos Aires. In 1958, he entered the Society of Jesus as a novice. He became a Jesuit two years later and was ordained to the priesthood almost a decade later, in December 1969.
Francis rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church in Argentina. In 1998, he succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino as archbishop of Buenos Aires. A few years later, Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal. Some believed that Francis was the frontrunner to become the pope after Paul died, but ultimately, the College of Cardinals, who are the Church’s most senior officials, elected Pope Benedict XVI. In 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to step down since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Less than a month later, the College of Cardinals elected Francis to be the 266th pope of the Church.
For the last seven years, Francis has paved the way for a more inclusive, diverse Church. He expresses acceptance toward migrants, Muslims and gay people. Francis has also appointed countless bishops, cardinals and the Church’s most senior officials, who include a larger mixture of Latin America, Asia and African representatives than have served under past popes. He is also outspoken on poverty, the environment, patriarchy and the shortcomings of the Catholic Church.
“Too often we participate in the globalization of indifference,” Francis said. “May we strive instead to live in global solidarity.”