The Pope’s Near-death Experience

In a recent online seminar offered by Nestor Echarte of Argentina we discussed the chart of Roman Catholic Pope Francis (aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio).  I was intrigued when the teacher mentioned that as a young man the Pope had to have part of his lung removed to save his life, which was being threatened by a severe lung infection.

Checking several biographical sources, I learned that in August 1957, during the year following his entrance into the Buenos Aires Seminary, Pope Francis came down with a life-threatening fever accompanied by choking and pleurisy. Despite antibiotic treatment he continued to worsen and was taken to the hospital, barely able to breathe. He was diagnosed with pneumonia due to cysts on the right lung, and the doctors decided to operate to remove the cysts and the upper part of his right lung.

His condition continued to worsen until an experienced nurse took the initiative to substantially increase his antibiotic dose, which led to an improvement in his condition. He spent a month recuperating in the hospital and was in a great deal of pain during the recovery. Apparently this near-death experience had a profound impact on his decision to continue with the priesthood and in November of 1957 he took the first step toward becoming a Jesuit priest. As Mark Shriver in his book Pilgrimage writes:

This episode raises several questions in the mind of an astrologer:

  • Is lung surgery indicated in his natal chart?
  • Is so, what predictive techniques indicate lung surgery, hospitalization and a near-death experience in August of 1957?
  • Are there indications in the birth chart that his health crisis contributed to his decision to continue with the priesthood as his vocation?

According to his birth certificate, Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 17 December 1936 at 9 pm.  Here is a copy of his birth certificate:

Partida_de_Nacimiento_J.M.Bergoglio x

The official birth certificate of Pope Francis (Jorge Marioi Bergoglio) indicates that he was born at 9 PM on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires.

And below is his natal chart in the tropical zodiac with Placidus houses.

Pope chart x

Natal chart of Pope Francis cast in the tropical zodiac with Placidus houses. Rated AA, from Birth Certificate.

At 9 pm the MC has just moved into Taurus, so that if he were born just slightly earlier the MC would have been in Aries. In this chart, Venus rules the MC and conjoins the Ascendant-ruler Moon in Aquarius in the 7th house. Venus is the benefic of the nocturnal sect in a night chart, which seems fitting in the chart of a man who would become Pope. Jupiter, which rules the Placidus 9th of the church, closely trines Uranus in the 10th of profession, which also seems fitting for this progressive Pope.

Health issues are connected to the 1st house (the body), the 6th (bodily ailments), the 8th (mortality and near-death experiences) and the 12th (involuntary confinement, hospitalization, debilitating illness). Inflammations and fevers are related to Mars, and the lungs symbolically have to do with Mercury, Gemini and the 3rd house. One would expect these factors to be prominent in predictive techniques during the August 1957 period.

Zodiacal Releasing

Let’s begin with zodiacal releasing from the Part of Fortune, which has to do with health issues and material well-being.

In his zodiacal releasing from the Part of Fortune in 1957, Pope Francis was in

  • Gemini on Level 1:  Gemini is related to the lung and is on the cusp of the 12th house of debilitating illness and hospitalization. Mercury, which rules Gemini, closely opposes the Ascendant degree.
  • Aquarius on Level 2:  Aquarius is on the cusp of the 8th house of death, near-death experiences and surgery. Saturn, which rules Aquarius, lies in the 8th house.
  • Leo on Level 3 (3 Aug – 21 Sep, 1957):  Leo is on the cusp of the 2nd house and its ruler, the Sun, lies in the 6th house of illness which it conjoins the Moon’s nodal axis (the position of a recent eclipse) and opposes Chiron (the wounded healer and teacher) in the 12th. In Vedic astrology the ruler of the second Whole Sign from the Ascendant is considered a maraka (“death-causing”) planet, which can challenge the vitality of the individual. According to Vic DiCara, “the 2nd and 7th houses are supposed to be ‘maraka’ houses – houses that detract from health and bring death.” In addition, the Leo 2nd house in this chart is the 12th turned house from the natal 3rd house of the lungs. This Leo sub-period on Level 3 coincides with his pneumonia, hospitalization, lung surgery and month-long recuperation in the hospital.

The symbolism of zodiacal releasing from Fortune certainly fits the events of 1957.


Next, let’s look at the primary directed chart. Below, I advanced the birth chart by about 4 minutes for every year of life to arrive at a “primary directed” chart for August of 1957 in which I allowed the planets to move forward at their normal rate rather than keep their natal positions.

pope prim dir

The “primary directed” natal chart with the natal angles advanced to August of 1957, at which time the directed Ascendant lies in the 2nd degree of Leo, which is in the bound or term of Jupiter.  The most recent past aspect to the region of the directed Ascendant was the square from natal Mars in Libra in the natal 3rd house (the lungs). Thus, the distributor or divisor for this period (Aug 1957) is Jupiter (ruler and occupant of the natal 6th Placidus house) and his participating or partner planet is Mars (a symbol of infectious disease and surgery) in the 3rd. If we allow the modern outer planets to be partners in this technique, the bound-ruler Jupiter has Pluto has his partner during this August 1957 period.

As you can see, in August of 1957 the primary directed Ascendant lies in the Jupiter bound of Leo. Natally Jupiter rules and occupies the 6th house of illness.

The most recent past aspect by one of the seven traditional visible planets to the Ascendant degree is the square from Mars in Libra, which will remain active until the directed Ascendant reaches 7 Leo 40 and the opposition from Venus becomes active. Mars rules surgeons and surgery and in the natal chart occupies the 3rd house of the lungs.

If we include the outer planets in this technique, then the most recent planet to aspect the directed Ascendant was Pluto which (without latitude) lies in the Saturn bound of Cancer that was active from April 1952 through November 1955 (see table below). Pluto in mythology was lord of the underworld and is a modern symbol of crises, profound life-altering transformations, death, rebirth and near-death experiences.

If we analyze Pluto with its latitude, the body of the planet came to the Ascendant by primary direction in March of 1957 and was active at the time of the Pope’s illness in August of 1957:


The above data is summarized in the following table of distributions (divisor/distributor and participating or partner planet) calculated in Janus software.


If we were to include the outer planets in this technique, the conjunction of the body of Pluto with the Ascendant would be inserted into the above table in the Jupiter bound of Leo for the date 29 March 1957 and thus would be the partner to Jupiter in August of 1957.


If we consider the firdaria of the Pope, we will find that Jupiter (ruler and occupant of the 6th of illness) is also activated in August of 1957.

It is interesting that the Jupiter/Jupiter firdar begins on his 20th birthday in 1956 and the Jupiter/Mars sub-period of the Jupiter firdar extends from Sep 1957 when he is recovering from surgery through May of 1960 when he has entered and committed himself to the Jesuit Order.  Mars rules Aries in the 9th house of church matters in his natal chart.  If he were born shortly before 9 pm, Mars would also rule the 10th house of career.

Primary Directions

Finally, let’s consider his primary directions at age 20 when he nearly died. The following list is from Janus software and shows the Placidus semi-arc primaries with the Naibod key, without latitude.

In this list we seen that the square of Mercury (lungs, 3rd & 12th ruler) comes to Saturn (8th ruler) in July of 1957 very close to the time of his near-death experience and lung surgery in August of the same year. In addition, we saw in the discussion of distributions that the the body of the planet Pluto (with latitude) came to the Ascendant at the end of March 1957 and was active at the time of the Pope’s near-death experience in August of 1957.

Secondary Progression

The only secondary progression active during August of 1957 was the progressed Moon at 19 Scorpio 30 semi-sextile natal Mars, which perfected on 27 July 1957 and was in effect from the beginning of July until the end of August. Despite older texts which claim that the semi-sextile (30 degrees) is mildly favorable (like a mini-sextile), it is in fact much more like a stressful quincunx (150 degrees) and often indicates problems with health.  In this case the progressed Moon (1st ruler, the body and its vitality) semi-sextile Mars (fevers, inflammation, surgery) correlated with Pope Francis contracting pneumonia and needing surgical intervention. The position of Mars in the 3rd house (the lungs) indicated the area of the body which would undergo the surgery.

Tertiary Progression

A tertiary progression equates a day with a lunar month. Calculating the Pope’s tertiary progressions for the beginning of August 1957, we find the tertiary progressed Moon at 16 Pisces 14, almost exactly conjunct natal Saturn in the natal 8th house. In addition, the tertiary progressed Ascendant lies in Aries, and its ruler Mars lies in the natal 6th house of illness, conjunct the Lunar North Node.


The inner chart is the birth chart of Pope Francis. The outer chart is his tertiary directed chart for 01 August 1957. At the beginning of August the tertiary progressed Moon is conjunct natal Saturn in the 8th house. The tertiary directed Ascendant lies in Aries and its ruler Mars lies in the 6th natal house of illness close to the Moon’s North Node and the position of the pre-natal eclipse.

A Possible Rectification

Given the symbolism of Pluto as a planet of death, rebirth and radical transformation, if we adjusted the birth time slightly from 9 pm to 20:58:39 (8:58:39 pm), then the body of Pluto would arrive by primary direction (using the Naibod key) at the Ascendant at the very beginning of August 1957.  This rectified chart would have an MC of 29 ARIES 43 and an Ascendant of 9 CANCER 41, as can be seen in the following diagram:

POPE rectified

Possible rectification of the birth chart of Pope Francis to a birth time of 8:58:39 pm. This chart has Pluto with latitude coming to the Ascendant at the Naibod rate at the beginning of August 1957 when he fell ill of pneumonia, requiring hospitalization and surgery for a near-death experience which radically changed his life.  Obviously one event cannot be used to rectify a chart, and this birth time would need to be tested again many other significant happenings in his life.

If we secondarily, progressed this rectified 8:58:39 pm chart to August of 1957, we would find progressed Mercury exactly on the progressed Descendant, highlighting Gemini 12th house issues (such as hospitalization and lung disease) at this time in his life.

Annual Profections

In August 1957 Pope Francis was 20 years old. Because his natal Ascendant lies in Cancer, his profected Ascendant at age 20 lies in Pisces (where natal Saturn resides), making Jupiter “lord of the year.”  Jupiter, as we have seen, rules and occupies the 6th house of illness, so one would expect health issues to be a prominent theme this year.

His natal “lord of the hour” is Saturn which, progressing through the Chaldean order of planets, will make the Moon “lord of the orb” at age 20. The Moon rules his natal Ascendant (the body and its vitality) and lies in Aquarius at the end of the 7th house but in the 8th Whole Sign with respect to the Ascendant, so again issues of health and vitality come to the fore.

Using Lilly’s more modern method of profecting the chart, we find that in August of 1957 the profected Ascendant degree at a rate of 30 degrees per year changes sign from Pisces to Aries.  In addition, profected Mars comes to the natal Ascendant around mid-August during the period of his surgery and hospitalization. Below is the natal chart profected to August 24, 1957 when profected Mars crossed the natal Ascendant.

Mars to asc

Inside is the Pope’s natal chart. Outside is the chart profected to 24 Aug 1957. Note that the profected Ascendant had changed signs from Pisces to Aries around mid-August at the time of his surgery, and a couple weeks later profected Mars crossed the natal Ascendant of the 9 pm birth chart.

Solar Return

Below is the solar return in effect at his birthplace for the year of his near-death experience. Note that the Sun conjoins the cusp of the 8th house of death in the solar return chart. The Moon, which rules his natal Ascendant (the body), closely opposes the solar return Sun on the cusp of the 8th house.

SR Pope


About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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8 Responses to The Pope’s Near-death Experience

  1. Kilaya says:

    Very helpful post. I really enjoy these especially because many techniques you describe are not ones I usually employ. There is one factor that would have alerted me to the Pope’s health crisis that you didn’t mention: transiting Neptune entered his natal 4th house in Nov 1956. Neptune is connected to the south node in Gemini (being in the 12th). Whenever I see Neptune+cancer/4th + Jupiter influence in the 6th I consider the danger from an internal excess of water to be high. Combine that with the SCORPIO PROGRESSED moon and the secondary progressed Venus having just entered Pisces AND directed Pluto near the Asc: chance of death.

    • Thanks for your observations. With major life events many different predictive techniques tend to point in the same direction. In addition, it was in late 1956 when the Pope first entered the Seminary in Buenos Aires, so this Neptune entering the 4th house marks the very initial stage of his priestly vocation.

  2. Kilaya says:

    Yes, I agree. I am enjoying seeing this play out through the various techniques you are describing. I would love to read more of your experience with Firdar. I used them for many years then stopped, feeling that I was missing something. Possibly they are intended to be used more like Vedic dashas are used (based on essential dignities firstly) but I am not sure. My personal Firdar has been stuck in Saturn for so long and that doesn’t help with my investigations. Lol

    • I think the firdar simply highlight which planets to pay extra attention to by transit, profection, progression, direction, etc. In your case the Saturn firdar would suggest that you pay special attention to Saturn configurations that become active.

      • Kilaya says:

        Nice. That’s helpful. I will look into that. Such activations you would interpret through the position of Saturn natally through house & sign, I would assume.

  3. lmastrology says:

    Interesting, as always. I would like to add that if we use his Hyleg ( which is Moon) in primary directions we will see that on 5th July 1957 makes square to Mars. Moreover in Tradional Astrology Jupiter ruled lungs. As we can see Jupiter rules his natal 6th chart and is ruler of Part of Disease ( Bitter Purgatives). In his Solar Return for 1957 ( using whole-signs) the LOY of the year which is Jupiter is located in solar 6th house. Sun and Saturn are in solar 8th house. Both Luminaries Moon and Sun make a square to the Part of Disase in the return chart. As I said Moon is the Hyleg. When we compare both charts (again whole-signs) Return Moon is in natal 12th house,

  4. daritarose says:

    FWIW, Mercury’s decan ruler is Mars. Mars does rule surgery.

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