Why Francis? Pope's name honors patron saint of the poor

By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY

Pope Francis chose a name that reflects St. Francis of Assisi's humble ministry ? and his own.

St. Francis renounced family wealth to live with and serve the poor.

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The new pope, son of middle-class Italian immigrants, is known as a humble man who doesn't partake in luxuries. He didn't live in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, where he was cardinal. He was known to use public transportation and to cook his own meals.

The name also recalls St. Francis Xavier, who co-founded the Jesuit order to which the pope belongs.

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St. Francis of Assisi, known as a patron saint of animals and the environment, took a hard and sometimes controversial stand on some major issues, says Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School.

Living a life of poverty "was an extraordinary development that challenged the wealth of the church," he says. "He represented a very challenging position for the church" to accept.

St. Francis opposed the militia and war and was a pacifist, he says.

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"That (the pope) is a Jesuit says so much about his commitment to the poor," Hauerwas says,"and that he's taken the name of Francis, in recollection of Saint Francis of Assisi, clearly gestures that the Roman Catholic Church not only serves the poor, the Roman Catholic Church is the church of the poor."

The name Francis symbolizes "poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church," Vatican scholar John Allen. "The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual."

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Chester Gillis, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, told Religion News Service that the name a pope chooses can send a theological and political message and honor someone of spiritual significance to him.

In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose to be known as Pope Benedict XVI. The name recalled St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe. It also paid homage to Pope Benedict XV.

Contributing: Cathy Lynn Grossman; the Associated Press


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