September 11, 2015
Father Adolfo Granillo-Ocampo had been on the job as pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Church in Buenas Aires, Argentina, and rector of the school there, the largest school in the Archdiocese of Buenas Aires, only a few weeks when he got a call from Rome.
It was from the man who had ordained him as a priest, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, and who had just been introduced to the world as Pope Francis.
“It was incredible,” said Father Adolfo, who this month was visiting Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville to set up a student exchange program with his school in Buenas Aires.
Father Adolfo had started in his new position just before Cardinal Bergoglio had left for Rome for the conclave that would elect him pope. After his election, he was unable to return to Argentina.
The call came on the day he was installed as pope, Father Adolfo said. When he answered the phone, the pope made the same joke he had made in past conversations, Father Adolfo said. The pope was calling to make sure everything was going well. The pope called a second time about a month later to check in again, Father Adolfo said.
Like his calls when he was Archbishop of Buenas Aires, the pope called directly without having a secretary contact Father Adolfo first. “There is no protocol with him,” Father Adolfo said of the pope.
Father Adolfo had been a civil attorney before entering the seminary and after his ordination had served in the archdiocesan tribunal. He, like many of the priests of the archdiocese, had a close relationship with the pope, he said.
“The Church in Argentina has the seal of Bergoglio,” Father Adolfo said, because so many bishops and priests were advised and mentored by the pope. “Many people consulted him and got his advice for life and for Church life.
“He was so close to me,” Father Adolfo said. “I remember many conversations we had. Those things have another accent for me, another meaning” since the pope’s election.
When Pope Francis was elected, it was a great surprise to the people of Argentina, Father Adolfo said. “People cried and were so shocked.”
Pope Francis, with his humble lifestyle and emphasis on reaching out to those on the margins of society, is the same man the people of Buenas Aires had come to know over the years, Father Adolfo said.
“He was very humble. He didn’t want to be a superstar,” Father Adolfo said. “He was so close to everyone and he was so close to people who suffer because of their situation. He wants them to feel welcome inside the Church.”
Americans can expect a similar message when the pope visits the Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia later this month, Father Adolfo said.
“He’s going to be very simple and direct and clear in the message he will say to all of you,” Father Adolfo said. “He wants a Church with the doors open. … He wants the Church to go to people at the margins in every sense of the expression, the ones out of the system and who need special care in order to help them feel in the Church and the Church is open to them, that (it) loves everyone.”
During his visit to the United States, Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families. The pope has always stressed the importance of the Church’s role in supporting families, Father Adolfo said.
“He thinks it’s a very important place where the Church has to put an accent there. It’s a place where our faith grows,” Father Adolfo said. The pope wants the Church to interact with all the different kinds of families “with great mercy, not just with the law,” Father Adolfo said. “The Church must understand the different kinds of families we have right now and evangelize those families, not reject them.”
The pope’s message can sometimes hard to hear, Father Adolfo said. ““Every time he says what he thinks even if it’s uncomfortable to hear. He speaks with strong words but with much mercy at the same time.”
Father Adolfo’s parish has the largest school in the Archdiocese of Buenas Aires with 3,000 students and 450 employees. The students range from two to 20 years old, he said, and the school offers a two-year program to train people as teachers after they graduate from high school, he explained.
Our Lady of the Snows School had a student exchange program with Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego when Michael Deely, JPII’s new headmaster, served as principal there. They are now arranging a similar exchange program between JPII and Our Lady of the Snows.
Twelve students from Argentina will arrive at JPII on Jan. 8, 2016, and live with host families for a month while they attend JPII and explore life in America. The JPII students will travel to Argentina for a two-week stay in June.
The JPII students will find Argentina is a nice place to visit and Buenas Aires is a big city with a lot to see and do, Father Adolfo said. “They will get a taste of Argentine culture. They’ll enjoy seeing how the youth live with their friends.”
“Our students and our families are so interested in coming to the United States,” Father Adolfo said. “It’s a great opportunity for their education and their future. The future will be with no frontiers. It’s a way to prepare for that … to experience other cultures.”
In the three years Our Lady of the Snows students have been visiting Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, they have seen how how hard work and a culture of effort can affect their future, Father Adolfo said.