Pope thanks Catholics for prayers after the deaths of three of his relatives


Pope Francis embraces a woman during his Wednesday general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

During his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, Pope Francis addressed the deaths of three of his family members in a Tuesday car accident in Argentina.

“The pope has a family, too,” Francis told the crowd, adding: “We were five siblings, and I have 16 nieces and nephews. One of these nephews was in an accident. His wife died along with his two small children — one who was 2 years old and the other several months.”

The pope also thanked people for their prayers for Emanuel Horacio Bergoglio, his nephew, who remains in critical condition.

Three relatives of Pope Francis have died in a car crash in Argentina. The Vatican's official broadcasting service said the pontiff, just home from a trip to South Korea, is deeply grieved. (Reuters)

Bergoglio, 38, was driving his family back to Buenos Aires after a weekend vacation when his car, a Chevy Spin, collided with a cargo truck, according to NBC. Bergoglio’s wife and two children were killed in the crash.

During Wednesday’s audience, several priests offered condolences to the pope. And, as the Associated Press reported, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called the Vatican to offer “condolences from her and from the Argentine people.”


Pope Francis receives the Copa Libertadores trophy from representatives of the Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo on Wednesday at the Vatican. (L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

The pontiff’s mood was a bit lighter as he greeted members of the San Lorenzo football team on Wednesday. He’s been a fan of San Lorenzo since childhood, and the Argentine team recently won the Copa Libertadores trophy.

“San Lorenzo is the team my whole family cheered for,” the pope said, adding: “I remember as if it were today the 1946 season when San Lorenzo had a brilliant team and were champions.”

Francis also addressed his recent five-day trip to South Korea, his first visit to Asia.

He praised the spread of Catholicism in the country, which hosts a large and growing population of about 5.4 million Catholics. “In the history of the faith in Korea we see that Christ does not erase cultures, does not suppress the pilgrimage of peoples, who, through the centuries and millennia, seek truth and practice love for God and neighbor. Christ does not abolish what is good, but brings it to fulfillment,” he said.

On Monday, the day before the deaths of his relatives, Francis discussed his own mortality with reporters on his flight back to the Vatican from South Korea. During the discussion aboard the papal plane, Francis strongly suggested that he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and eventually retire as pope.

Referencing Benedict’s statement that he no longer had the strength for the job, Francis said, “I would do the same.” He added: “I would pray, but I would do the same. He opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.”

Francis, who is 77, also joked that he may live only for “two to three” more years before he’s “off to the Father’s house.”

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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