Why pick 'Francis'?

Posted: March 14, 2013

IN TAKING THE NAME Francis, the new pope hearkens back eight centuries to the preaching of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most revered figures in the Catholic Church.

St. Francis, born Giovanni di Bernardone, was something of a playboy in his youth and was a soldier before a vision sent him into a life of poverty and preaching.

He was never a Catholic priest, but he founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare for nuns. He was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228.

What Francis symbolizes to many Catholics is the rejection of worldly possessions, humility and poverty to strive for a purity of devotion. Because of a vision Francis experienced in a church in Assisi, the name also symbolizes to some the rebuilding of Catholic faith.

Legend holds that the figure of Jesus came to him three times and told him, "Go, Francis, and repair my church in ruins."

Did the new pope have this in mind when he chose the name, given the acute problems of the Catholic Church in recent years?

The name Francis was never used by previous popes. The last pope to select a previously unused name was Lando, who was elected in 913. He died after six months. Lando was his family name, which he did not change when he became pope.

The new pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is a member of the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, founded in the 16th century by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The Jesuits, devoted to the spread of the faith through education, were a controversial band of priests and monks in their early history. Because of the intense devotion and drive of Loyola's followers, they tended to annoy officials of some governments.

Jesuits were expelled from a few countries, and in 1773 the order was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV because of opposition to it. It was revived by Pope Pius VII in 1814.

The order has founded schools throughout the world - including St. Joseph's Preparatory School on Girard Avenue and St. Joseph's University on City Avenue.

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