When Jorge Bergoglio chose to honor St. Francis by choosing his name as pope, few of his colleagues questioned his decision and many inside the Conclave applauded loudly.
Pope Francis is the first to use Francis of Assisi’s name and the significance of this choice hasn’t been lost, as the Holy Father has, from the beginning, been one of the most humble leaders the Catholic Church has ever seen. It has been refreshing for the faithful to witness the actions of the Argentinian Pontiff, where his actions speak louder than his words.
St. Francis (1181-1226) was a remarkable man who, despite his family’s wealth, chose to give away all his worldly goods and dedicated his life to serving the poor. He is one of the most beloved saints in all of Christianity because of his particular love of animals and his humility.
It is apparent now, after watching Pope Francis in action as pope, that he mirrors St. Francis in word and deed, which has made him a rock star of sorts to Catholics and non-Catholics alike and has gained him the admiration of millions. Francis has rejuvenated a Church that was in desperate need of a leader who could put aside politics and be inclusive in a challenging modern world.
When the pope announced he would choose the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, cardinals rose to their feet in applause, according to the Huffington Post.
One Vatican commentator said, “I was astonished at the boldness of it, because the name Francis is a whole program of governance in miniature.”
Before Bergoglio ever dreamed of becoming Pope Francis, he explained why St. Francis is so important to the Church in an interview in his native Argentina.
“He brought to Christianity an entire new concept about poverty in the face of the luxury, pride and vanity of the civil and ecclesial powers of the time. He changed history.”
Little did he know that a few years later he would be named pope and would choose St. Francis’ name to serve God. When Francis stepped on the balcony to greet the faithful for the first time, he was offered all the luxurious adornments offered to his predecessors, but he declined saying humbly, “I prefer not to.”
St. Francis is the founder of the Franciscan religious order, which Pope Francis belongs to, and as such, he has made it his way of life. The parallels in the lives of both men are clear.
It has been sufficiently documented that Pope Francis has also passed on living in the ostentatious Papal Apartments at the Vatican and opted to use the guest quarters. He insisted on keeping his old car or walking to move around. In an unprecedented move, the Pope auctioned gifts he received to raise money to give to the poor.
When they were both 22-years-old, St. Francis and Pope Francis suffered a serious illness which served as a time to reflect on their spiritual lives and they were re-energized. Both were sent away by the Church because of their unconventional views, however, they later were received by the Vatican.
Pope Francis described St. Francis of Assisi after his election as “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” and the world as that “with which we don’t have such a good relationship.”
As the second anniversary of his election approaches, Pope Francis has certainly left an indelible mark and has set the bar for his successors to a whole new level, following in the footsteps of St. Francis.
[Image via Capuchins Franciscans]