I mentioned that the last time I watched a papal election, it was with my pastor on a TV outside my office.
This time I shared the election with 1,900 eager, anxious Catholics on Twitter. It’s a whole new world!
When the moment came, my Twitter feed exploded with “WHITE SMOKE!!!!!” It was very exciting!
There’s so much to say about our new Pope but what I’m most struck with at the moment is his name–Francis.
In the history of the Church, the name Francis is synonymous with evangelization. I believe the Pope’s choice of this name signals his commitment to the New Evangelization. Although, I think it might turn out a bit different than the way it began.
The Pope chose Francis of Assisi
There was some confusion at first concerning which Francis the Pope meant. I think originally everyone was thinking of the most famous Francis–St. Francis of Assisi. But then, some doubt set in.
Was it St. Francis Xavier? After all, Pope Francis is a Jesuit. Or was it St. Francis de Sales?
In an audience with journalists a few days after the election, he revealed the story:
During the election, I was seated next to…Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!”
And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi….That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
The other Francises
St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier was probably the greatest overseas missionary of all time. One of the first Jesuits and a personal friend of St. Ignatius Loyola, Xavier burned with uncommon zeal for souls fueled by his experience of the Spiritual Exercises.
There are stories of Francis Xavier going into villages in India, preaching the gospel, and then baptizing until he couldn’t lift his arm any longer. His words were a fire backed up by miracles and an obvious infusion of the divine.
Francis Xavier traveled as far as China and Japan to spread the message of Christ, but was martyred in the Philippines.
St. Francis de Sales
In the early 1600’s, St. Francis de Sales was the bishop of Geneva…Switzerland. That was the stronghold of the Calvinists at the height of the Reformation!
Francis de Sales preached constantly, and was extremely effective. He published and circulated tracts on the Catholic Faith, and also wrote numerous books on Catholic spirituality. He converted so many people back to the Church that his life was constantly in danger. He was not popular in certain Calvinist circles.
Francis was the evangelist
But St. Francis of Assisi was the evangelist because his influence changed the course of the Church.
Wherever he went, people converted back to the Faith. Sometimes he would just walk into town and people would want to follow him. His reputation was so great he didn’t even have to say anything. But he did…always!
Francis was a magnificent preacher. He never prepared–just spoke what was in his heart. He preached so beautifully, people would cry hearing him talk of God’s love. He preached everywhere he went. He never stopped, and he exhorted his brothers to do the same. He even preached to the birds…and they listened!
His poverty of life, his radical trust in God, his complete transcendence of earthly needs, and the divine infusion of love in his soul radiated God to everyone. It changed them, and it changed the way people looked at the Catholic Faith.
A Francis for the New Evangelization
And now we have another Francis to lead the Church.
Much like St. Francis, he lives a radical, expressive faith. He shuns the privileges of his office for simplicity. He embodies the Church’s preferential option for the poor. He preaches off the cuff and doesn’t prepare his homilies or statements. And, he radiates a freshness, authenticity, and zeal for Christ and the conversion of souls.
It’s interesting that St. Francis’ work was like a new evangelization. He mostly ministered to a Catholic population in Northern Italy that had spiritually lost their way. Although, those that didn’t know God came to know him through Francis, his initial efforts were to invigorate the Faith of those who had forgotten it. To re-propose the Faith in a new way and thus ignite hearts.
This too is the mission of Pope Francis in the New Evangelization. I think he might usher in a different new evangelization than we all expected. Perhaps less focused on the intellectual and emphasizing, in the spirit of St. Francis, an adherence to the simplicity of the Gospel preached with love and backed up by a lived example of poverty and care for those on the margins.
“Rebuild My Church,” God told St. Francis. “See how it’s lying in ruins around you?” In many ways, our Church today is in ruins, and is in vital need of rebuilding.
And the Holy Spirit has chosen another Francis to take up the stones and work. May God bless him in his work. And may we all pray for him and support him in this great task.
What has been your favorite characteristic or quote from Pope Francis? Do you think he’ll continue the work of the New Evangelization? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.