Thursday, 14 March 2013

Following St Francis

I'm often grateful that I was encouraged to study Classics at school. It was certainly useful when it came to teaching English literature and of course later to reading New Testament Greek. But I got a slightly ignoble enjoyment from telling Jane yesterday the papal name that Cardinal Bergoglio had chosen before the Sky News boffins had worked it out. Mea culpa! 

Mary Kennedy, a nice Scottish Facebook friend, had written about the seagull on the now famous temporary Sistine Chapel chimney, and so I tuned in yesterday afternoon, while working on an article, to the Vatican "chimney cam". It was just the right balance between the diverting and uneventful having the picture alongside the document. Then at about 6 o'clock I noticed a trickle of smoke, which soon billowed white over the roof. Time to turn on Sky News.
It was simple but effective theatre. Getting on for an hour later came the announcement in Latin:
"Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam. Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Georgium Marium Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio. Qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum." 
"I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope. The most eminent and reverend Lord, the Lord Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Who has given himself the name Francis." The commentators told us that Cardinal Bergoglio had been Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina. When he appeared, I thought he looked a nice friendly chap. 

In the course of commentary later it sounds as though appearances weren't deceiving. He's known for his unostentatious lifestyle, using the bus, living in a flat not a palace, cooking for himself - and, most importantly, being on the side of the poor. He's known in the slums of Buenos Aires, for example, for his concern for Aids' victims. Mary also put a link to the new Pope's Lenten letter which I liked. Near the end he said, "This year of faith we are traversing is also an opportunity God gives us to grow and to mature in an encounter with the Lord made visible in the suffering face of so many children without a future, in the trembling hands of the elders who have been forgotten and in the trembling knees of so many families who continue to face life without finding anyone who will assist them."

Not least significant is the name he's chosen. Popularly known as the first ecological saint, Francis of Assisi's real passion was for sharing the love of God with all his creatures, especially with the marginalised such as lepers and the poor, despite his merchant father's protests. "Following the Gospel literally, Francis and his companions went out to preach two by two. At first, listeners were understandably hostile to these men in rags trying to talk about God's love. People even ran from them for fear they'd catch this strange madness! And they were right. Because soon these same people noticed that these barefoot beggars wearing sacks seemed filled with constant joy. They celebrated life. And people had to ask themselves: Could one own nothing and be happy? Soon those who had met them with mud and rocks, greeted them with bells and smiles" (Catholic Online Encyclopedia). I like the prospect of this radical a Pope.

No doubt he is in for the muds and rocks of diverse critics. Indeed I've already seen hints of it in the British media. He dared as an Argentine Archbishop to have a view about our Falkland Islands, for goodness sake! However next week both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches will have new spiritual leaders installed - both of whom appear to have "a bias to the poor". Perhaps the Spirit of God is saying something to Christians and to the world, about his priorities. 


  1. I was in an ecumenical meeting soon after the announcement and the homily was given by the Roman Catholic priest who suggested that we should look at another Francis, Francis Xavier, for some of the inspiration of the name. Like Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier was humble, identified with the poor, and was extremely keen on sharing the gospel.

    1. And a friend of Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, of whom the Pope is/was one. I seem to remember that Francis Xavier engaged with the surrounding culture in order to share the good news of Jesus. I'm sure Bergoglio was doubly intentional when he took the name Francis.