- (Photo: Reuters/Osservatore Romano)
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who became the first Latin American pope in Catholic history, told the media late last week that he chose the name "Francis" after St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Franciscans, a rich man who took an oath to poverty and became a voice for the poor.
According to the 266th Bishop of Rome, changing his name to "Francis" came as a way to symbolize the need for the Church to be "of the poor, for the poor."
Pope Francis spoke about the election process last week and that a Brazilian cardinal who was a friend of his inspired his decision.
"When things became a bit dangerous, he comforted me, and when the vote for me reached the two-thirds majority, a moment in which the cardinals started applauding because they had chosen a Pope, he hugged me, he kissed me and he said 'don't forget the poor'," said Pope Francis.
"It was then that I thought of St Francis. And then I thought of wars and about peace and that's how the name came to me – a man of peace, a poor man ... and how I would like a church of the poor, for the poor."
Pope Francis has a noted reputation for being humble. In Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio was known to ride the bus with residents rather than use a limousine for transportation. While in Rome for the conclave, Pope Francis paid his own hotel bill and opted to wear a simple wooden cross as pontiff rather than an ornate golden one like his predecessor.
St. Francis of Assisi, a monk born into privilege in the 1180s who was known for his ministering to the poor and sick, as well as giving all he owned to the less fortunate.
Pope Francis is the first and only pontiff to have the name Francis. As such, he will not be referred to as "Francis I" until a "Francis II" ascends to the bishopric of Rome.
Father Gabriel Zeis, member of the Franciscan Province of the Most Sacred Hearth of Jesus, Third Order Regular and president of Saint Francis University in Loretto, Penn., told The Christian Post about why he felt it had been this long since the first Pope named Francis came.
"The name Francis originated in the 12th century, and was a unique name, not at all common, as it was the invention of St. Francis' father Pietro Bernadone," said Zeis.
"Most Popes would want to take a name that was more familiar to the ear, such as that of the much earlier Saint Benedict and that of the great Apostle, the beloved of Jesus, John."
Echoing what Pope Francis said to thousands of journalists last week at Vatican City, Zeis felt the connection between St. Francis' work among the poor and Pope Francis' call to minister to the poor.
"The values of this saint resonate with him: care for the underserved and underprivileged, the poor and homeless, the lepers and the dying," said Zeis.
"He would also resonate with St. Francis' love for peace and a life mirroring that of Christ's, one of prayer and simplicity, one of doing the will of the Father."
Zeis also told CP that another possible direction Pope Francis took with his name was in regards to the call St. Francis received to "rebuild God's Church" and "to make peace between people through understanding and forgiveness."