An Argentinian cardinal who rejected the comforts of his position and rode the bus to work has become the newest leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is known for his modesty and his compassion for the poor. Many credit him with modernizing the church in Argentina, even though he holds orthodox views on modern-day issues like same-sex marriage and contraception.

He is the first Jesuit and Latin American pope in history and many are hoping that his unique background will influence the church as it moves forward.

Bergoglio, 76, the son of Italian immigrants, has spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, often visiting slums in and around his hometown of Buenos Aires and offering his support to the less fortunate.

He famously lived in a modest apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace and cooked his own meals. He refused to be chauffeured around in a limo, often taking public transportation to work. He also encouraged members of the church and the public to donate to the poor.

Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936. His father was a railway worker from the Turin area in Italy and he had four siblings.

It has been reported that Bergoglio lost a lung to a serious infection as a teenager, but has been functioning well ever since. 

Bergoglio originally planned to become a chemist, but eventually decided to become a priest and entered the Society of Jesus in 1958.

He taught literature and philosophy in the early years of his career and served as the country’s Jesuit provincial in the 1970s.

In 1980, he became the rector of his seminary. He was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and became archbishop in 1998. He was appointed cardinal by John Paul II in 2001.

During the years of the military junta in Argentina, Bergoglio stuck to Jesuit traditions even as many Jesuit priests embraced a more progressive interpretation of the theology and became politically active.

He became known for his strict views on sexual morality, even as he supported children born out of wedlock and people afflicted by HIV and AIDS.

Bergoglio has staunchly opposed same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion. He has called adoption by gay parents a form of discrimination against children – a stance publicly criticized by Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

However, Bergoglio admonished priests who refused to baptize children out of wedlock and showed his support for HIV and AIDS patients when he visited a hospice in 2001 to kiss and wash their feet.

He was a big proponent of social outreach and pastoral work and did not shy away from accusing fellow church leaders of hypocrisy in their dealings with marginalized members of society.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," he told Argentina's priests last year.

During the last conclave, Bergoglio was widely seen as the runner-up to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

But his career hasn’t been without controversy.

He was criticized for his actions during Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War,” during which a right-wing dictatorship kidnapped and killed thousands of people.

Church leaders did not openly challenge the junta after the 1976 coup, but Bergoglio told his biographer that he secretly helped hide many people from the regime on church property.

Bergoglio was accused of effectively handing over two Jesuit priests who advocated liberation theology to the junta’s death squads in 1976 by not telling the dictatorship that he endorsed their work.

Both men were eventually freed after Bergoglio intervened, although he did not discuss his efforts to save them until much later.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to the regime in the 1970s, including a young pregnant woman whose child was given to another family.

Bergoglio denied wrongdoing, but refused to appear in court to give his account.

When he eventually testified in 2010, he said he didn’t know about stolen babies until much later, after the dictatorship had collapsed.

Last year, the bishops of Argentina apologized for the church’s failures to protect people during the bloody military rule. But some Argentinians scoffed at the statement, saying the church was more concerned about its image than standing up for human rights.

With files from The Associated Press