Inside the conclave, when Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope, the cardinal seated beside him whispered, “Don’t forget the poor.” When asked, “What name will you take?” he said, “I choose the name Francis, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.”
The cardinals rose to their feet in applause.
One Vatican commentator said, “I was astonished at the boldness of it, because the name Francis is a whole program of governance in miniature.” Years earlier, in a little known interview with an Argentine rabbi, Pope Francis had given his own capsule biography of Saint Francis.
“He brought to Christianity an entire new concept about poverty in the face of the luxury, pride and vanity of the civil and ecclesial powers of the time. He changed history.”
Before greeting the public, Pope Francis was offered a red velvet cape with ermine trim, a jeweled cross, cufflinks and luxurious red shoes. The rumor around Rome was that he waved them away, saying, “That circus is over.” But in reality his response was far simpler and humbler. He merely said, “I prefer not to.”
After his inaugural mass, wearing a simple mitre trimmed in brown to honor St. Francis, the new pope greeted waiting crowds in St. Peter’s Square. Homemade signs everywhere read, “Repair my Church,” words God spoke to St. Francis in a vision.
At prayer in a dilapidated chapel, the young saint felt a Byzantine cross on the altar say to him, “Francis, repair my Church.” He traveled on foot, begged and used all he collected to restore local churches. Years later, when St. Francis went to the Vatican for permission to found his order, he was turned away. But Pope Innocent III had a dream that the Lateran basilica was breaking apart. A humble man held the entire collapsing church together, bearing the weight of the falling walls on his shoulders. Realizing this was St. Francis, the pope called him back and approved his order.