Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit works through the conclave, but really I’ve now seen the effects of that because I know him so well,” said the Pope’s former press officer, who had five minutes with his old boss at the Vatican last month.
“I could see this amazing transformation in his face; he was glowing and happy and his eyes had this special light in them. He seemed to have an extra strength and without any doubt this is a change brought about by the force of God.”
The friendship between Fr Marcó and Pope Francis goes back to the early 1990s when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became an auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Buenos Aires, where Fr Marcó was a priest.
The young bishop was already in the habit of going out among the people of the diocese. “He often asked me to go walking with him and we would have discussions,” said Fr Marcó. “Twice, he invited me to have lunch with him. I mention this because it was very unusual for him to have lunch with people.”
At the time, Fr Marcó was presenting a radio programme while also serving as a parish priest. The two men became good friends over the six years it took Bishop Bergoglio to be appointed Archbishop of Buenos Aires upon the death of Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998.
“If it hadn’t been for Cardinal Quarracino, he wouldn’t have been made Archbishop of Buenos Aires,” said Fr Marcó. “He loved and admired Bergoglio very much and designated him as his coadjutor in the diocese and let Rome know that he wanted him to be his successor. Otherwise, another bishop with more experience would have been brought from another part of the country. It was a big upgrade.”
However, Cardinal Quarracino left his protégé with a hornets’ nest of problems in Buenos Aires. A huge fraud in which the archdiocese had borrowed US$10 million from the Banco de Crédito Provincial was uncovered. The money never made its way into the archdiocesan coffers but documents apparently showed that Cardinal Quarracino had signed off the loan.
“Bergoglio called me in my parish,” Fr Marcó explained. “He was very calm and he asked me, ‘Are you busy?’ I said, ‘Not really, why?’ He said, ‘Because there are 15 journalists at the door of Archbishop’s House and I don’t know what to do.’”
Fr Marcó slipped into Archbishop’s House through the cathedral, met Archbishop Bergoglio and then held a press conference.
“I told them that we had all the information to prove that this money never entered the diocese and that the information had already been freely offered to the judge in the case but that she had refused to look at it,” said Fr Marcó. “The next day, the newspapers were all quoting me as the press spokesman for the archdiocese. So I had a job all of a sudden, but I was never officially named as the spokesman. Bergoglio was always joking about this – he thought it was really funny.”