Survivors: Pope Francis saved many in dirty wars

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In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo, two dogs lie on the entrance of the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, studied philosophy and theology and became a priest at this school. He also lived there in different periods of his life, first when he served as Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1975 to 1979 and later, when he became Rector between 1979 and 1986. Pope Francis conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo, two dogs lie on the entrance of the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, studied philosophy and theology and became a priest at this school. He also lived there in different periods of his life, first when he served as Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1975 to 1979 and later, when he became Rector between 1979 and 1986. Pope Francis conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo, Jesuit priest and theologian Juan Carlos Scannone poses for a portrait at the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Scannone taught Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, Greek and literature. Scannone says he was targeted by the Military Junta because he promoted a non-Marxist “theology of the people†and worked with slum-dwellers in the city’s “misery villages.†He said Bergoglio not only defended him against criticism within the church, but personally delivered his writings for publication even when military was trying to find him. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In this Nov. 29, 2013, shows the room were Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, used to sleep at the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis, studied philosophy and theology and became a priest at this school. He also lived there in different periods of his life, first when he served as Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1975 to 1979 and later when he was Rector between 1979 and 1986. Pope Francis conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo, Jesuit priest and theologian Juan Carlos Scannone conducts journalists to the garden of the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Scannone said he was targeted by the Junta because he promoted a non-Marxist “theology of the people†and worked with slum-dwellers in the city’s “misery villages.†He said Bergoglio not only defended him against criticism within the church, but personally delivered his writings for publication even when military was trying to find him. “It was risky,†Scannone said. “Bergoglio told me never to go out alone, that I take someone along so that there would be witnesses if I disappeared.†(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo, Jesuit Priest and theologian Juan Carlos Scannone poses for a portrait at the garden of the Colegio Maximo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Scannone said he was targeted by the Junta because he promoted a non-Marxist “theology of the people†and worked with slum-dwellers in the city’s “misery villages.†He said Bergoglio not only defended him against criticism within the church, but personally delivered his writings for publication even when military was trying to find him. “It was risky,†Scannone said. “Bergoglio told me never to go out alone, that I take someone along so that there would be witnesses if I disappeared.†(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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SAN MIGUEL, Argentina (AP) — Gonzalo Mosca was a radical on the run. Hunted by Uruguay’s dictators, he fled to Argentina, where he narrowly escaped a military raid on his hideout. “I thought that they would kill me at any moment,” Mosca says.

With nowhere else to turn, he called his brother, a Jesuit priest, who put him in touch with the man he credits with saving his life: Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

It was 1976, South America’s dictatorship era, and the future Pope Francis was a 30-something leader of Argentina’s Jesuit order. At the time, the country’s church hierarchy openly sided with the military junta as it kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of leftists like Mosca.

Critics have argued that Bergoglio’s public silence in the face of that repression made him complicit, too, and they warn against what they see as historical revisionism designed to burnish the reputation of a now-popular pope.

But the chilling accounts of survivors who credit Bergoglio with saving their lives are hard to deny. They say he conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime.

Mosca was 27 then, a member of a leftist political movement banned by the military government in his home country of Uruguay. Bergoglio answered his call, and rode with him for nearly 20 miles (30 kilometers) to the Colegio Maximo in suburban San Miguel.

“He gave me instructions: ‘If they stop us, tell them you’re going to a spiritual retreat,’ and ‘Try to keep yourself a bit hidden,'” Mosca recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.

Mosca said he could hardly breathe until they had passed through the seminary’s heavy iron doors, but Bergoglio was very calm.

“He made me wonder if he really understood the trouble he was getting into. If they grabbed us together, they would have marched us both off,” said Mosca, who stayed hidden in the seminary

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