What's In a Name

by John Lepper, Coordinator

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Just a few weeks ago, Pope Benedict made history by being the first pope to resign in 6 centuries.  The world watched as history was made at the Vatican and throughout the world.  

Since then, several historic “firsts” have occurred. Never before has a Jesuit been named pope; never before has someone from Latin America been named pope; never before has a pope selected the name "Francis."

In choosing the name Francis, the former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the champion of the least among us.  As the Washington Post described it, “He chose [a name] that harks back eight centuries, to Italy, and to a man who renounced a life of privilege, gave away everything he owned, wore a coarse woolen tunic, lived in a hut and took a vow of poverty.”

What shall we make of this new pope and why would this Jesuit choose the name Francis.  At his installation mass, Pope Francis claimed and interpreted his role as leader of the church.  His role, he suggested, is one of protection of all humanity, but “especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment of love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

This pope, while the stated leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, has no authority over other Christians. However, we can gain inspiration from Pope Francis.  I am inspired by his words of hope in the presence of current hopelessness around the world.  At his installation mass, he challenged all Christians to, “see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”

I am particularly struck by how his lifestyle has brought credibility to his claim to reach out to the least of these.  He has walked the walk.  While archbishop in Argentina, he gave up his chauffeur and took the bus to work. As archbishop, Bergoglio had the option to live in a palace but chose a simple apartment and cooked his own meals.

I share the sentiments of Mike Ward, President of Kentucky Council of Churches when he said,  “In the Body of Christ, something as important as the selection of a new pope affects us all. So it is that Protestants and Catholics join in prayer for Pope Francis. We pray for God’s blessings upon him, the Catholic Church, the universal Church and the world. May his identification with the poor of Argentina inspire us all to greater service. May his name remind us to care for God’s creation as did St. Francis. And may ecumenical efforts to mark his new leadership post lead us all to mutual love and unity so that 'the world may believe.'"