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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam: God Bless Pope Francis I

What does a Pope's name tell us? God Bless Pope Francis I for his special name selection. His Papal name change from Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Pope Francis I conveys a historical message, revealing an inner passion for spiritual leadership for the world's Christians, particularly the Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics.  Bergoglio is the first Jesuit, first Latin American, and first Francis to be pontiff. He was was considered a long shot for the job, after Pope Benedict XVI abdicated last month.

Those who contemplate the significance of Papal names wondered if Pope Francis was showing respect to two saints. One was a co-founder of the Jesuit order, St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), originally from Spain; or, the other, the popular patron of animals and the environment, St. Francis of Assisi (1182- 1226), who lived in Assisi, a beautiful town in the hills of Umbria, Italy.

Although the question of which Francis the Pope preferred was quickly cleared up, when the message came that the Pope claimed the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, in fact, it really doesn't matter.  Both saints have very impressive biographies.

St. Francis of Assisi is very familiar. Some claim he's the world's most popular saint.  He lived and died in the natural beauty of Umbria. His shrine in Assisi is composed of magnificent art by the Florence artist Giotto, and other well known artists. He found spiritual solace in the beauty around him, preferring spiritual wealth to the monetary inheritance of his upper middle class Umbrian family. The rejection of his family's wealth, as a way of life, gave him the reputation as a reformer.  

St. Francis Xavier was a visionary and missionary who blazed the way for the Jesuits to evangelize Asia. He traveled to very remote areas in Borneo, Indonesia, Japan and Hong Kong. He died while waiting to evangelize in China.  His remains are interred in Goa, India, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The impressive legacies of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier raise challenges to the newly elected Pope Francis I, who has an expectation to be both a reformer and an evangelist.  First, Pope Francis must reform the Vatican culture of secrecy.  Of course, it's highly unlikely the new Pope will bring about sweeping Vatican transparency, but any progress is still "progress", in this regard.  Yet, the evangelical work of St. Francis Xavier seems to be a natural "fit" for Pope Francis, because he speaks five languages and his family are Italian immigrants to Argentina. In other words, although Pope Francis is Argentinian, he has a trans-global genealogy.  He seems energized by the opportunity to evangelize by preaching the Gospels and prayer.  

Unfortunately, for those who expect sweeping social reforms, Pope Francis seems unlikely to support the role of women in church leadership, clergy, or, especially, as ordained deacons. Probably, he will maintain the celibacy rule, not allowing Roman Catholic married men to become priests (although many Eastern Rite priests are already married).  But, maybe he'll surprise us and take on some of these needed reforms. Surely, however, he will have a virtually no tolerance policy for any clergy who are guilty of sexual abuse.

Yet, for the moment, Pope Francis presents himself as a humble, prayerful, compassionate and intelligent man. He seems acutely self aware of his potential to both reform and evangelize. He was immediately likable when he first greeted the thousands cheering in St. Peter's Square, where he stood on the Pope's balcony, with a cordial "Buonasera".

So, Habemus Papum!  (We have a Pope!)  

God Bless Pope Francis I.  As a Roman Catholic woman, I pray for him to live and reign in the light of wisdom paved by both of the saints who carried his chosen name.  

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