The name is Francis
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When the Cardinal Camerlengo asked the Most Rev. Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, by what name should he be known. With no hesitation, the new Pope answered: “Francis”.Pope Francis is the first non-European Pope; the first from the ‘new world’ or the Americas, first Jesuit Pope, and the first to bear the name, Francis.
The very choice of name, Pope Francis tells, in a way, the direction by which the present pontificate would take. The name Francis is after St. Francis of Assisi (founder of the Franciscan movement) and not after the great missionary to the Orient, St. Francis Xavier, SJ.
I am personally excited by the choice of name. St. Francis of Assisi is known for his humility and reform within the ‘corrupt’ medieval church. But to people involved with other peoples of living faiths, St. Francis is an ICON of the interreligious relations, particularly with the Muslims.
It was NO accident that when Pope John Paul II began the Church’s new look at the relationships between believers in 1986, he chose Assisi as the locus of this new initiative. He invited prominent religious leaders to the place to reflect and pray on the Message entrusted to them vis-à-vis the imperative of peacemaking. Echoing the Beatitude: ‘blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons and daughters of God’ (Mt. 5:9), Pope John Paul II told all people of goodwill that ‘peace is NOT an option but a duty’ for all believers.
And now, we have a pope that bears the very name of Francis – the man who married ‘Lady Poverty’ in the midst of opulence to become the poor brother of Assisi.
The better-known discourse about St. Francis of Assisi was the relationship with the Muslims. St. Francis began the ‘Crusade of Peace’ in contrast to the first worldly Crusade of the Official Church and the Christian Kingdoms of Europe wrestling control over the Holy Land from the Muslims. This ‘crusade of peace’ was mainly composed of the poor - not to vanquish the Muslims but to journey to the Holy Land as Pilgrims. Giotto depicted this journey in the famous painting where the Sultan welcomed the poor and unarmed Francis. While the rest of the world treated the Muslims as enemies, Francis called the Sultan as ‘BROTHER’.
St. Francis was a man of God. And because he was a man of God, he always lived what was essential. So he was a simple, courteous and gentle to everyone, like God in his mercy.
This is the person that the new Pope wants to become. The name, Francis, stands for a new way of life with many and varied relationship to the environment, to others, to religions, to the poor and to God. In St. Francis, it has always been through Pathos, Sympathy and Eros – fellowship, solidarity and tenderness.
The manifestations of this path chosen by Francis are:
His enthusiasm for nature
His gentleness to all beings
His capacity for compassion with the poor and “confraternization” with all elements and even death itself.
Francis’s gentleness was demonstrated, especially in his human relationship. He broke the rigidity of the feudal hierarchy and called all persons as brothers and sisters. He himself was called “little brother” (fratello). He wanted to unite great and small, to treat the wise and simple with brotherly affection, to bind with tie of love those who were held at a distance. He treated everyone with outmost courtesy, even Muslims, non-believers and thieves.
I hope and pray that the new Pope Francis would turn a new page not only in the ways the Church relates to the poor but also in the way she looks at peoples of living faiths outside of Christianity.
About four years ago famous Muslim leaders and Scholars wrote a letter to all the leaders of the Christian churches. The letter is popularly known as the ‘Common Word’. It says that there are two things that bind all peoples of God – the Love of God and the love of neighbor.
In a similar way, Pope Francis, through the humility and gentleness of the name he bears, invites all to be protector of each other and be led to peace, tranquility and fellowship. “BE KINDER WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS.” (Photo credit: guardian.co.uk)
Follow Fr. Eliseo Mercado on Twitter @junmeromi.