It was 1975 and the future Pope Francis, then 39-year- old Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was in Argentina celebrating the marriage of his former neighbors, Luis and Mimì Dinardo. In their family albums are previously unpublished photos of the young Pope Francis.
My Pope reminisces with the couple in the neighborhood of Flores, just a few blocks away from where Pope Francis grew up.
Tell us about your life in Flores, the Pope’s neighborhood.
Mimì: I met Jorge (we refer to him this way in the family) in 1975, the very same year I married Luis. They were neighbors—my husband lived across the Bergoglios and their families helped each other a lot. They would usually get together on Sundays. (Read: The Bergoglio Family Kitchen)
What was it like meeting Fr. Jorge for the first time?
Mimì: We got married on September 27, 1975. I met Jorge shortly before that—he was the Provincial of the Jesuits. The first time he received me and Luis in the Provincial house to organize the religious ceremony, I remembered his pleasant ways. He spoke to us about the sacrament we were going to take on. First, he spoke to both of us, then to each of us individually. He wanted to know what we thought of our future life. Also, thanks to his thoughtfulness, it was a beautiful celebration!
Where did the wedding ceremony take place?
Mimì: Jorge married us in the chapel of my alma mater—the College of Our Lady of Mercy in Flores. I spent all my life within those walls—first as a student and then I continued working in that school as a teacher. I had my first communion there as well. (Read: From Pupil to Pope: Lolo Kiko During His Schoolboy Days)
What’s the most memorable moment on your wedding?
Mimì and Luis: At the end of the ceremony, Jorge made us come up to the altar and face our guests. He gave us a blessing as the Jesuits would give to the indigenous people in bygone times: the fertility blessing for a marriage filled with children. And it has been that way—we now have three marvelous daughters and four grandchildren. We hope that more will come!
What struck you the most about the future Pope?
Mimì and Luis: If you look at the pictures, you see that Jorge was always at our side because he used to say that a priest should never separate the couple. He was always on the side, never in the middle. (Read: The day Pope Francis officiated a group wedding at the Vatican)
Have you kept in touch with Jorge after the wedding?
Mimì: Yes. When my father-in-law passed away, [Jorge] helped us greatly and worried about my mother-in-law who loved him very much. She used to call him Jorgito! She filled a diary with cutouts from magazines chronicling Jorge’s entire life.
When was the last time you saw Jorge?
Luis: About a year before he was elected Pope. It was during the feast of St. Jude Thaddeus. Jorge was the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Argentina and he celebrated Mass. We used to live nearby at that time so we decided to go to his Mass celebration. At the end, we feared that he might not recognize us because so much time had gone by. But to our surprise, he looked at me and said, “Luisito!!!” He even jokingly added, “So, you are still a Catholic…” It was very exciting!