When Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose to be called Pope Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi, many people around the world were surprised but approved instantly.
Although Francis of Assisi was canonized two years after he died in 1226, no pope had ever selected that name. Cardinal Bergoglio’s choice was innovative (patron of ecology), yet traditional (Francis and Catherine of Siena are co-patrons of Italy). Pope Francis will certainly have more to say about his namesake when he visits Assisi on October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
A new papal style and new priorities have clearly emerged. Indeed, in one of the general congregations before the conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio stated that the Church needs to be less “self-referential” and more focused on calling attention to Jesus than to itself. Francis of Assisi could not have agreed more strongly.
Perhaps Popes Nicholas IV, Sixtus IV, Sixtus V, and Clement XIV (all Franciscans) didn’t choose the name Francis because they wanted to avoid setting the bar too high for themselves. Or maybe they passed over the name for the same reason other popes have not taken the name Peter—out of respect.
Pope Francis has certainly set the bar high for himself—and, by extension, for the Catholic Church. Other Christians quickly resonated with his name choice because St. Francis of Assisi can teach everyone a great deal.
Photo: Catholic News Service