At 84 years old, Woites has been director of the Catholic News Agency of Argentina (AICA) for almost 50 years. The father of five, grandfather of 27 and great grandfather of seven, he received the Knights Commander Award of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1986.
Woites recalled that when news broke in Argentina of Francis’ election, the people “shouted and jumped as if they were in St. Peter’s Square, the bells of various churches rang out in unison, and there was widespread joy.”
“It was surprising, because we did not expect it. Most people did not think it would be him. Even we had personal profiles of the different candidates ready, but not his.”
The Pope is “a very humble person,” Woites continued. He described the new Pontiff as an “upright priest faithful to the Jesuit commitment to sound doctrine, a friend of the poor and the ordinary people,” as well as someone with “a fondness for children and the elderly, who are the weakest of society.”
The Holy Father “has never spoken in way that people cannot understand,” Woites said. “He is direct but always speaks with humility, and never out of pride, never attacking or hurting anyone.”
He also noted Pope Francis’ commitment to an austere way of life.
“His room had a bed and a small desk, sort of like he was a monk,” he explained. “It was very simple.”
“He didn’t have a car or a chauffeur; he would take the subway or the bus whenever he went to a parish. That was his only means of transportation, and he would take a seat like any other person, and if someone sat down next to him, he would strike up a conversation just like anybody else,” Woites said.
He also recalled the ceremony of installation for Pope Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“It was very simple. It was celebrated like normal, but when it was over, he took off his vestments and walked by everybody and left. He didn’t want the people to start kissing his hand. He was always the same. When he went to Rome for the Synods or whatever, at the end of the celebration he would put on his black overcoat and slip out.”
“I think he is going to be a very pastoral Pope,” Woites predicted. “I’m not saying he’s not an intellectual, of course he is, but not like the Pope who just resigned. Nor will he generate the massive crowds of John Paul II. I think he is going to give much more importance to the work with the poor.”
As the cardinal of Buenos Aires, he continued, Pope Francis “spoke firmly” when the governor of Buenos Aires announced his support for abortion and gay marriage.
“As Pope I think he will do the same, I don’t see him changing,” he added.
Woites said the Pope has great faith in the laity and has consistently called on them to engage in the work of the Church, “to go out and preach and speak and not just confine themselves to Mass and to the sacristy.”
“Whenever I had a problem here in the office, he would listen to me and he always trusted us,” the veteran journalist recalled.
On a personal note, he shared that Pope Francis offered to celebrate Mass for his 50th wedding anniversary.
“Now that I have been married for 60 years, I don’t think he’ll be able to do so as Pope,” Woites reflected. “I love him a lot and I know that he loves me.”