Saturday, March 16, 2013

Papal PR: Welcome to St. Francis with The Sword

Pope Francis
Right from the start, Pope Francis has set a new tone in the Vatican for the Catholic Church under his papal rule. Gone are the trappings of power; in are the trappings of modesty.

The new Pope, sans Cadillac, sans fancy garb, has set out to impress upon the Catholics in his flock, and the world, his determination to steer the Church in a new direction.

The Decision: His Papal Name

In this interesting article we learn how he decided, at the last moment, on the name Francis:

Pope Francis offered intimate insights Saturday into the moments after his election, telling journalists that he was immediately inspired to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi because of his work for peace and the poor -- and that he himself would like to see "a poor church and a church for the poor."

"Let me tell you a story," Francis said in a break from his prepared text during a special gathering for thousands of journalists, media workers and guests in the Vatican's auditorium.

Francis then described how he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as it appeared the voting was going his way and it seemed "a bit dangerous" that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected. "

He (Hummes) hugged me. He kissed me. He said don't forget about the poor," Francis recalled. "And that's how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi," who devoted his life to the poor, missionary outreach and caring for God's creation.

He said some have wondered whether his name was a reference to other Francis figures, including St. Frances de Sales or even the co-founder of the pope's Jesuit order, Francis Xavier.

But he said he was inspired immediately after the election when he thought about wars.

St. Francis of Assisi, the pope said, was "the man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation -- and in this moment we don't have such a great relationship with creation. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man."

"Oh how I would like a poor church and a church for the poor," Francis said, sighing.
Ignatius of Loyola

Threads in the Tapestry that Makes this New Pope

I see four threads in the tapestry of this new Pope, two from St. Francis, one from the Jesuits, and one of his own weaving.

Threads from St. Francis of Assisi

Who was the man that the new pope has taken the name of?

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was the grandson of an Italian count, who fought as a soldier for Assisi, and had a vision when on the way to a war. He gave up his worldly ways and went to Rome as a pilgrim, joining the poor begging at St. Peter's Basilica.

In 1219 he visited the Sultan in Egypt, hoping to convert him and so end the Crusades.

He is the patron saint of animals and of the environment. He loved animals, and the legends talk of the animals loving him: the taming of a savage wolf, how half-frozen bees crawled to him during winter to be fed; how wild falcons flew around him; how the nightingale sang a duet with him in a grove; and how the birds listened to his sermons.

St. Francis saw humans as the stewards of God's creation and with a duty to protect nature.

The first thread from St. Francis is that of stewardship: I expect Pope Francis to speak out in defence of the earth against global warming and environmental pollution, far more than any pope has to date.

The second thread from the saint I expect to see is a duty to repair the Church.

St. Francis heard a command a command: Francis, repair my church:
St. Francis - environmentalist

His search for conversion led him to the ancient church at San Damiano. 

While he was praying there, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him, "Francis, repair my church." Francis assumed this meant church with a small c -- the crumbling building he was in. Acting again in his impetuous way, he took fabric from his father's shop and sold it to get money to repair the church. His father saw this as an act of theft -- and put together with Francis' cowardice, waste of money, and his growing disinterest in money made Francis seem more like a madman than his son. Pietro dragged Francis before the bishop and in front of the whole town demanded that Francis return the money and renounce all rights as his heir.

The bishop was very kind to Francis; he told him to return the money and said God would provide. That was all Francis needed to hear. He not only gave back the money but stripped off all his clothes -- the clothes his father had given him -- until he was wearing only a hair shirt. In front of the crowd that had gathered he said, "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'" Wearing nothing but castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods -- singing.

Thread Three – God's Marine

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, one of God's Marines:

The Society of Jesus ... is a Christian male religious order of the Roman Catholic Churdh. The members are called Jesuits and are also known colloquially as "God's Marines", these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and members' willingness to accept orders anywhere in the world and live in extreme conditions... 

Ignatius' plan of the order's organization was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 by the bull containing the Formula of the Institute. The opening lines of this founding document would declare that the Society of Jesus was founded to "strive especially for the propagation and defense of the faith and progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine."

I expect Pope Francis to wield a sword in defence of the Church and its conservative faith. This is not a meek man who will turn his cheek against slights to that Church and its mission, as he sees it.

Thread Four: The Anti-Jesuit

Those expecting modernization of social dogma under Pope Francis will, I believe, be disappointed, because in many ways he is an anti-Jesuit:

Politically speaking, Francis is an atypical Jesuit. As a cardinal in Argentina, he led a public fight against same-sex marriage — although reportedly after failing to broker a deal supporting civil unions — and has said that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.

One thing is certain: this new Pope will thrust the Church to the forefront in many arenas. He is decidedly not a backwaters pope.

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