Pope’s sister prayed he wouldn’t be picked; now she’s proud, from afar

Updated 5:35 PM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013

Story highlights

The pope's sister says she had previously prayed that her brother wouldn't be picked

"I didn't want my brother to leave (Argentina)," Maria Elena Bergoglio says

Now, the pope's proud sister says he will be a pope for the people

On the selection of her brother: "The church opened its doors."

(CNN) —  

Maria Elena Bergoglio was in her home west of Buenos Aires last week when she heard the shocking news: Jorge Mario Bergoglio – her brother – was the new pope.

In the past, she had prayed that the cardinals wouldn’t pick him.

“During the previous conclave, I was praying for him not to be elected … because I didn’t want my brother to leave,” she told CNN en Español on Monday. “It’s a position that was a little selfish.”

But this time around, Bergoglio said she changed her tone.

“I prayed that the Holy Spirit would intervene and not listen to me. And it didn’t listen to me,” she said, laughing. “It did what it wanted.”

Last week, soon after the white smoke billowed out from the Sistine Chapel chimney, she heard her brother’s voice crackling through the telephone line.

“I almost died,” she said. “The telephone rang and my son answered. I heard him say, ‘ooooh, God.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Her brother, who chose the name Pope Francis, told her not to worry and reassured her he was well – something she’s also seen watching his face as the events of recent days unfolded on television.

“I told him I wanted to hug him,” she said, “and he told me that we are already embracing from a distance, which is also something that I feel and that is real.”

Then, the pope told her to pass along his warm greetings to the rest of the family.

“He said, ‘I cannot call everyone. We are a very big family, so please send them my love. Because if I call everyone, it will empty the Vatican coffers,’ ” Bergoglio said.

Standing outside her house in a middle-class area about 45 minutes from Argentina’s capital, she laughed Monday as she described his comments.

She said it was a sign that even now, thousands of miles away in Europe and in the highest office in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, her brother showed the same sense of humor he displayed since their childhood growing up in Argentina.

“I think that’s why he became pope … if he had to be firm in something, he was,” she said. “But he was always like that, with a sense of humor.”

It’s clear, Bergoglio said, that her brother – the first pope from Latin America – will be a pope for the masses.

“I feel like the church opened its doors, and said to the world, “Here I am. I belong to everyone. I am not from one continent, but absolutely belong to everyone.’”

She dismissed concerns raised by critics who accuse Francis of being complicit with Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship from the 1970s – an accusation the Catholic Church denies.

“I am sure, and that is where my calmness is born, that my brother didn’t participate in that,” she said.

“I don’t like to get involved in destructive and scandalous matters. Those rumors are destructive and my purpose is to construct,” she said. “So let them say what they want.”

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CNN en Español’s Jose Manuel Rodriguez reported from Buenos Aires. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN’s Rafael Romo contributed to this report.