Today, the cardinals of the Catholic Church elected a new pontiff: Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who chose to be known as Pope Francis. Most modern Popes pick the name of a prior pontiff, so this is a departure from tradition — choosing a name never held by a Pope. The new Bishop of Rome instead chose to be named after one of Catholicism’s most revered saints: Francis of Assisi — a.k.a. San Francisco — who lived from around 1180 to 1226. As I pointed out in a recent post, Popes usually choose the name of someone they admire, so the name offers a preview of the new Pope’s plans and priorities. Below are a few of Saint Francis’ personality traits. It’s anyone’s guess which the new Pope plans to imitate.
- He was poor, after giving away all his money.
- He was an advocate for reform of a Church plagued by allegations of corruption and impiety.
- He loved animals, calling them our brothers and sisters, and he’s the patron saint of ecology. (He also wrote about “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” so he was pretty free about appointing siblings.)
- He visited the Middle East and tried to make peace with Islam (virtually unheard of during the Middle Ages — and not at all successful). He may have expected to be killed and become a martyr (a reasonable prediction, though wrong in this case).
- He was erratic and suffered from severe bouts of depression.
- He had ecstatic visions (which would put him in the crazy column nowadays, but not during the Middle Ages).
- He wasn’t a priest and saw no reason ever to become one. (He was a wandering preacher, a.k.a. a friar, and founded an order of friars, though today’s Franciscans include many priests).
Saint Francis himself was named for the Franks: the Germanic barbarians who overran the Roman province of Gaul during the 500’s, turned Catholic, spent a lot of time killing each other and their neighbors, and gave their name to the Frankish Empire and ultimately to France. So one of the Church’s greatest saints and the new Pope get their name from some pretty gnarly warriors.