When Pope Francis visits Dublin on Saturday, 82-year-old Irish priest James Kelly will be glued to the television waiting to hear what his old colleague makes of a new reformed Ireland.
The frail Kelly spent three years working alongside then Jorge Bergoglio when the future pope was a parish priest and college director in the Buenos Aires area in the early 1980s.
“He had a clear vision of what he wanted and he had great strength to put it into execution so he was a strong leader, great leadership capacity,” Kelly said.
“He was a director, directing things, pushing people and so on.”
Some people balked as the future pope’s assertive style, Kelly remembers.
“Not everyone agreed with his approach and there was opposition to him … He was at that time authoritarian.
“I think he later changed when he was bishop of Buenos Aires. He went out and met the people, I think he changed then.”
Father Kelly will watch the two-day papal visit to Ireland on television at the Jesuit community in Dublin where he lives, a place Pope Francis knows well.
Records at the community show that the pontiff spent 23 days there in January 1980.
At that time, contraception and divorce were still illegal in Ireland and the Catholic Church’s influence on a deeply conservative society was near-total.
But Pope Francis will return to a completely different country, now led by a gay prime minister. Three years ago, it became the world’s first nation to adopt gay marriage by popular ballot.
In May, it ended one of the West’s strictest abortion regimes.
“Ireland has changed drastically since the last visit,” Kelly said.
“The modern Ireland is one I have questions about myself, so I am waiting to see how he will act and how the people will react to him so I am waiting myself to find the answer to that.”