Before he entered the Church and later became Pontifex, Pope Francis was an amazing Argentine food chemist. But in a twist even more interesting than the Pope becoming a progressive liberal, the-then Jorge Bergoglio worked for a revolutionary activist named Esther Ballestrino de Careaga, who was abducted and murdered for her Marxist beliefs.
In 1953-1954, Careaga was a pharmaceutical biochemist and the future Pope was a technician in the same lab. The two became friends, despite the fact that young Bergoglio had little in common with his radical boss. Paraguayan by birth, Careaga had fled her home country several years earlier for being a Marxist and a founder of a feminist movement under a dictatorship. She settled in Buenos Aires and became a mentor to young Bergoglio. According to a New York Times article, Bergoglio later told Careaga's daughter, "She’s the person who taught me to think."
Esther Ballestrino de Careaga and one of her children. Image via Gentileza.
In the 1970s, Argentina came under a military dictatorship itself, and Careaga and her daughters were persecuted once again under a cruel regime. The future Pope helped her hide her radical Marxist books and track down her pregnant 16-year-old daughter, who had gone missing! As it turns out, young Ana Maria had been kidnapped and taken to a building basement, where she and 1,500 others were kept in chains and tortured - she reportedly was shocked with an cattle prod inserted into her vagina - for four months.
Eventually, Ana Maria was released and then fled to Sweden. But her mom refused to flee, even protesting the many human rights violations going on at the time, despite the ready danger to herself. While Careaga worked front and center against the dictatorship, Bergoglio reportedly did his best behind the scene.
In June 1977, Careaga and several French nuns were kidnapped. Later, it was revealed she was drugged, killed, and tossed into the Atlantic Ocean. Her heroic life and tragic passing profoundly affected the current Pope and his focus on human rights.
Feature image via Presidencia de la República Mexicana/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.