SAN MIGUEL, Argentina (AP) — Gonzalo Mosca was a radical on the run. Hunted by Uruguay’s dictators, he fled to Argentina, where he narrowly escaped a military raid on his hideout. “I thought that they would kill me at any moment,” Mosca says.
With nowhere else to turn, he called his brother, a Jesuit priest, who put him in touch with the man he credits with saving his life: Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
It was 1976, South America’s dictatorship era, and the future Pope Francis was a 30-something leader of Argentina’s Jesuit order. At the time, the country’s church hierarchy openly sided with the military junta as it kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of leftists like Mosca.
Critics have argued that Bergoglio’s public silence in the face of that repression made him complicit, too, and they warn against what they see as historical revisionism designed to burnish the reputation of a now-popular pope.
But the chilling accounts of survivors who credit Bergoglio with saving their lives are hard to deny. They say he conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime.
Mosca was 27 then, a member of a leftist political movement banned by the military government in his home country of Uruguay. Bergoglio answered his call, and rode with him for nearly 20 miles to the Colegio Maximo in suburban San Miguel.
“He gave me instructions: ‘If they stop us, tell them you’re going to a spiritual retreat,’ and ‘Try to keep yourself a bit hidden,’” Mosca recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.
Mosca said he could hardly breathe until they had passed through the seminary’s heavy iron doors, but Bergoglio was very calm.