In a Word ... Francis

 

I like this Pope. (Oh dear. Would someone please tend to members of the Iona Institute and their friends who have fallen out of their standing at the back? Thank you.)

Yes, and it was pretty instant. The casual “buona sera” (good evening) with which he introduced himself to Rome and the world that drizzly Wednesday evening in 2013 at St Peter’s indicated a refreshingly free style.

It came into its own the following Saturday when he gave an audience to thousands of media at the Vatican’s Paul VI hall. Dwarfed by the grotesque eight-tonne Resurrection sculpture depicting Christ rising from a nuclear crater in the Garden of Gethsemane, his general ease and humour – glorious humour – told us this man was different.

Such as in how he had chosen the name Francis. It wasn’t after his fellow Jesuit, Francis Xavier. He recalled how during the conclave he sat next to the former Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, “a great friend, a great friend”.

Then “when the thing became ‘dangerous’ (his vote was increasing)”, Cardinal Hummes “comforted me, and when the votes reached the two-thirds level, there was the expected applause, because the Pope had been elected – and he embraced me, and kissed me, and said to me: ‘Do not forget about the poor . . . and that struck me . . . the poor, the poor . . .”

Immediately “I thought of St Francis of Assisi. Francis was a man of peace, a man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation.” That was how the name came to mind, he said, adding: “How I would love a Church that is poor and for the poor.”

Some cardinals suggested he might take the name Hadrian, after Pope Hadrian VI (died 1159) a noted church reformer. Still others said he should take the name Clement to get back at Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuits in 1773.

“These were jokes,” he said as the media audience laughed.

Then, “since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers”, he gave a silent blessing, “respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God.”

What was there not to like?

Next Tuesday (October 4th) is the feast of St Francis.

Francis, from the Old French word Franceis meaning “Frenchman”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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