When the new pope’s birth and papal names were announced from St. Peter’s balcony in March 2013, many assumed that the first Jesuit pope was selecting the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier as his patron. But it soon became clear that it was Francis of Assisi who inspired Cardinal Bergoglio. “For me,” the new pope explained a few days after his election, “he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” Pope Francis picked up these themes of peace, creation, and poverty in the long day he spent in Assisi, two months ago, on October 4, 2013, the feast day of St. Francis.
Preaching at a morning Mass, the pope explained that “Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. The peace of St. Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who take up their yoke, namely Christ’s commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ This yoke cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart.” He also described the world as God’s great creation and gift. “From this city of peace,” he said in the same homily, “I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being.”
The pope focused on poverty throughout his visit, but particularly in the hall where St. Francis had dramatically stripped himself of his family’s rich clothing, laid it at his father’s feet, and embraced poverty. There, the pope declared, “We need to strip the Church. We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.” He also starkly described a worldly spirit as “the leprosy, the cancer of society! It is the cancer of God’s revelation! The spirit of the world is the enemy of Jesus.”
Strong words, indeed, but the pope also carried a message of hope: “I ask the Lord that he gives us all this grace to strip ourselves.”Christopher M. Bellitto, PhD, is associate professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. His books include 101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy and Renewing Christianity. (St. Anthony Messenger, December 2013, Page 36)