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The meaning of the Pope’s name

15 March 2013

By Simon Caldwell


Revered: Franciscan friars gather in prayer at the tomb of St. Francis, in Assisi, after the new Pope was presented in Rome

Revered: Franciscan friars gather in prayer at the tomb of St. Francis, in Assisi, after the new Pope was presented in Rome

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is expected to explain to the world why he chose the name Pope Francis.

There has never been a Pope Francis before - though a number of saints bear this name. The most famous of these is St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Italian founder of the Franciscan order. He was a man who turned his back on power and wealth to dedicate himself to a radical life of Christian poverty, evangelisation and peace-making.

St Francis was so holy that, according to Catholic belief, he received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, in his own body while still alive. He also said that that he had heard a voice from a large crucifix telling him repeatedly to "rebuild my house, which you see is falling down".

The choice of the name might also be connected with one of the first Jesuits: St Francis Xavier - a close colleague of the 16th founder, St Ignatius of Loyola. St Francis was a brilliant missionary who took the Catholic faith to India and the Far East after Ignatius persuaded him to turn his back on a medical career.

The missionary zeal of this man might indicate the ambitions of Pope Francis as the Catholic Church is confronted with the crisis of the loss of faith and is once again redoubling its efforts to win souls for Christ - but this time in the secular West.

The Society of Jesus was for 400 years the most popular male order in the Roman Catholic Church, and its members were known for the bravery and academic excellence.

During the Reformation, the popes sent Jesuits on the English mission to build up the RC Church under the noses of the Elizabethan authorities. Many of them, such as St Edmund Campion and St Robert Southwell, shed their blood on the scaffold of Tyburn, and they have also died as martyrs in many other countries of the world where they were sent to do the bidding of the Pope.

They grew so powerful that the head of the Jesuits was known as the "black pope". The order was suppressed in the 18th century after their opposition to slavery infuriated the royal houses of France, Spain, and Portugal. It was later revived.

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