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March 31, 2013

In this edition:
1. What's in a name? Francis.
2. The charism of St. Francis.
3. Reflections on St. Francis.
4. Quotes by Pope Francis:
a) Unity and diversity.
b) Media coverage of the church.
5. Focusing intently on the poor.
6. The church and people on the margins.
7. To be evangelized by the poor.

1. What's in a Name? Francis

"How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor!" Pope Francis, elected March 13, made that comment three days later when he addressed reporters and other members of the communications media.

The election-day announcement of the new pope's chosen name surprised the world and captured its attention. Immediately people thought of St. Francis of Assisi, with his poverty, as the pope's model. The new pope's closeness to the poor in Argentina, his homeland, has been noted in countless news stories.

Part of the surprise in the pope's name choice came as people realized that no previous pope ever chose to be called by the name of this great saint.

Quickly after the announcement, however, people began to wonder, since the new pope is a Jesuit, whether he might have had St. Francis Xavier in mind or someone else. The first instinct proved correct, however.

In his March 16 remarks to communicators, Pope Francis told a story regarding his choice of a name. In the telling of it, he explained that while the charism of St. Francis indeed encompasses poverty and closeness to the poor, it extends as well to peacemaking endeavors and love for creation and the environment.

"Some people wanted to know why the bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story," Pope Francis said to the communicators. He continued:

"During the election I was seated next to the archbishop emeritus of Sao Paolo, (Brazil), and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes -- a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two-thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said, 'Don't forget the poor!'"

Pope Francis said that the cardinal's words came to him, "the poor, the poor. Then right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes still were being counted, till the end." For, the new pope explained, St. Francis also is "the man of peace."

He said, "That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi."

For him, the new pope said, St. Francis "is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. These days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man."

. . . 2. The Charism of St. Francis

It was "a very emotional and moving moment" when the new pope accepted his election and "announced that his name would be Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. He said very explicitly that he was taking it in honor of St. Francis of Assisi," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston wrote in his blog. The cardinal participated in the conclave to elect the pope.

Cardinal O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan, thinks "there are some themes from the life of St. Francis" that Pope Francis hopes to communicate through his chosen name. One theme of St. Francis' life "is the call to rebuild the church, which is a call to reform, to deepening our conversion to the Lord," Cardinal O'Malley wrote.

Another aspect "would be Francis' theme of universal brotherhood," the Boston cardinal said. He explained that the new pope "talked about that in his comments from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica -- of making a world where we are brothers and sisters to each other. St. Francis, of course, saw himself as a brother to all of creation and to everyone."

Cardinal O'Malley noted that "St. Francis also had a special love for the poor, who are a sacrament of the crucified Christ." Pope Francis, the cardinal continued, was as an archbishop "so dedicated to the poorest of the poor. I think we will see a continuation of that in his pontificate."

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles who also was a papal elector, discussed the new pope's name in a blog entry March 16. The cardinal pointed to the remarks by Pope Francis to members of the media in which he said, "How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor!" Those words, Cardinal Mahony said, "have galvanized my own life and ministry for the remaining time left to me on this earth."

Cardinal Mahony said that "for the church to be poor means to possess very little -- not wealth, not nobility, not reputation. It means to live our lives as Jesus did in the loving service of others."

In southern California, the cardinal said, "we have many people who are poor: the homeless, the hungry, the abandoned, the victims of all types of abuse, the immigrants, the hopeless."

As Jesus did, "we must seek out and be found with all of 'the wrong people' so that we can bring God's love, forgiveness and comfort to them," Cardinal Mahony added. He accepts the new pope's challenge "as a personal mandate" for his own continuing ministry, he said.

. . . 3. Reflections on St. Francis

In a pastoral statement marking the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi, Archbishop John Quinn examined -- back in 1981 when he headed the San Francisco Archdiocese -- what makes the saint a compelling model.

St. Francis' "simple example of service, Gospel poverty, his spirit of prayer and joyful love of God's creation gave life to the church and the world of the Middle Ages," Archbishop Quinn said.

"Reflecting on the life of St. Francis may remind us of the value of life . . . and empower us to confront courageously whatever threatens to dehumanize or destroy God's gift of life and peace today," the archbishop wrote.

He referred to Francis as "the one saint whom all succeeding generations have agreed to canonize." As "a clear reflection of Christ," St. Francis "represents for every age a life-giver and healer," said the archbishop.

St. Francis, he noted, "dedicated his life to visiting the hospitals and prisons, he served the sick and gave to the poor: his money, his clothes, himself." As someone "at peace with God in his own heart, he was a maker of peace," Archbishop Quinn observed.

This is a saint who "preached by word and deed. He had a special devotion to Christ crucified and followed Christ's radical example of absolute poverty, purity, obedience to the Father's will, brotherly love and simplicity of life," Archbishop Quinn said. He characterized the saint as one who "felt called to follow Christ without withdrawing from the world" and who "continually called the world to holiness."

The archbishop said the source of St. Francis' "own holiness was his prayer. Throughout his life Francis repeatedly interrupted his activity to retreat to a solitary hermitage to reflect and pray."

St. Francis was "a contemplative in the world," whose "relationship with his Creator was so close that he lucidly saw God in all creation and Christ in every human creature," Archbishop Quinn wrote. He said, "For the people of our consumer and nuclear age, Francis is again a prophet of poverty and peace."

4. Quoting Pope Francis

Unity and Diversity: "Our acquaintance and mutual openness have helped us to be docile to the action of the Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the ultimate source of every initiative and manifestation of faith. It is a curious thing; it makes me think of this: The Paraclete creates all the differences among the [local] churches, almost as if he were an apostle of Babel. But on the other hand, it is he who creates unity from these differences, not in 'equality,' but in harmony. . . . The Paraclete, who gives different charisms to each of us, unites us in this community of the church. . . . The Holy Spirit is the soul of the church through his life-giving and unifying force: Out of many, he makes one single body, the mystical body of Christ." (From a March 15 address by Pope Francis to the College of Cardinals)

Media Coverage of the Church: "Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: They follow a pattern that does not readily correspond to the 'worldly' categories that we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: The church is the people of God, the holy people of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the church's life and activity." (From March 16 remarks of Pope Francis to members of the communications media)

5. Focus on the Poor

On Holy Thursday in 2001, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now Pope Francis, visited a hospital where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

"I come, following the footprints of our only master, our Lord Jesus Christ, to express the church's closeness to those who must suffer pain and discrimination," Cardinal Bergoglio said during the hospital visit.

After becoming archbishop in 1998, he celebrated the afternoon Mass of the Lord's Supper in places that symbolize society's marginalized people, Catholic News Service reported in April 2001. One Holy Thursday he visited a prison, another year he visited a refuge for the homeless.

Since the March 13 election of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope, many have remarked on his closeness to the poor and care for them. There are many predictions that this will become a mark and a theme of his pontificate.

It is predicted, as well, that as pope he forcefully will oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, for example, as he did in Buenos Aires. Certainly, it will take time to really know the kind of pope he will become.

At the time of this writing, less than a week after the papal conclave ended, many, including some cardinals, are speaking openly about changes they hope for in certain appointments to the Roman Curia.

This pope can be expected to connect ministries to marginalized people closely with evangelization, as he did when he celebrated Sunday Mass March 18 at the Vatican parish of St. Anna.

During his visit to the parish, he singled out a priest present for the Mass who, he said, "comes from very far away" and "who, for a long time, has worked with street kids and drug addicts. He opened a school for them and has done many things so that they might know Jesus."

Pope Francis added that "all of those street kids have a job today thanks to what they were able to study. They are capable of working. They believe in and love Jesus."

The same day, in remarks for the Sunday Angelus, he mentioned a book by German Cardinal Walter Kasper on mercy. The book "did me such good, so much good," he said. He noted how Cardinal Kasper "said that hearing the word 'mercy' changes everything. It is the best thing that we can hear; it changes the world. A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just."

In a homily March 14 in the Sistine Chapel during a Mass with the cardinals who participated in the election conclave, Pope Francis insisted that the good things the church does for the world and its people need to be founded on faith.

"Life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong," the pope said. Yet, he commented, "we can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ things go wrong. We may become a charitable [nongovernmental organization), but not the church, the bride of the Lord."

. . . 6. The Church and People on the Margins

In a culture that proclaims "modern dogmas such as efficiency and pragmatism," the church should lead the way in reaching out to aged people, to children who suffer, to the poor and others excluded from society's mainstream, Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, told catechists in Buenos Aires in March 2005, according to a Catholic News Service report.

CNS also reported that in 2003, when Argentina suffered a great economic crisis, the cardinal said:

"Every economic, political, social or religious project involves the inclusion or exclusion of the wounded lying on the side of the road. Each day, each of us faces the choice of being a good Samaritan or an indifferent bystander."

Consistent with messages issued by the general conferences of the Latin American bishops, the Buenos Aires archbishop linked care for the poor with the church's work of evangelization.

In comments around the time he was named a cardinal in 2001, according to a CNS report at the time, he suggested that social inequality, corruption and "destructive messages in the media" are signs that the hierarchy and laity need to work together "in speeding the new evangelization" so that "all the environments of our society and culture are impregnated by the Gospel."

The Latin American bishops said at their 1992 meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, that "as an expression of the new evangelization" they committed themselves "to working for the integral development of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples, with the poor as our main concern."

In a 2013 report, CNS writer Carol Zimmerman said that in Buenos Aires the new pope's role often forced him "to speak publicly about the economic, social and political problems facing his country."

Zimmerman said his homilies and speeches have been "filled with references to the fact that all people are brothers and sisters, and that the church and the country need to do what they can to make sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and cared for."

7. To Be Evangelized by the Poor

Some commentators think the election of a Buenos Aires archbishop as pope highlights the importance of the church in Latin America for the entire church.

One U.S. church leader who thought the church in the United States would do well to learn "from the experience of the church in Latin America" was the late Archbishop James Lyke, a U.S. Franciscan who became archbishop of Atlanta.

In light of this concern, a 1980 speech of his, given when he was an auxiliary bishop in Cleveland, spelled out ways the poor fulfill an evangelizing role in the lives of others. Bishop Lyke, one of the nation's black bishops, said that "the poor challenge us to a theology and spirituality of the total Gospel and the total church."

Many speak of the church and its people providing service to the poor, but I suspect that fewer by far speak of being served by the poor. It is this dimension of Christian service that Bishop Lyke highlighted.

He noted that Latin America's bishops, meeting in 1979 in Puebla, Mexico, "advanced a preferential, though not exclusive, love for the poor. They also stated that the church should be evangelized by the poor."

Bishop Lyke asked, "What does it mean for the poor to evangelize the church?" Responding to this question, he said:

"1. The poor can open our eyes to the needs, the injustices they suffer and to the sinful structures and systems which oppress them. The poor Christ, the suffering Christ, speaks to us through their voices. . . .

"2. They communicate to us a sense of urgency and help us to understand the causes of their anger. Mother Teresa of Calcutta tells us that we should recognize the presence of the poor Jesus in the 'distressing disguise of the poor.'

"3. The poor call us to a greater faithfulness to the Gospel: to a deeper spirit of sparing and sharing, generosity, hospitality, service, a greater spirit of simplicity.

"4. The poor call us to re-examine our lifestyle. . . . Does our lifestyle bear witness to the Gospel? . . .

"5. The poor challenge us to a theology and spirituality of the total Gospel and the total church. Whether concerning doctrine or morality, the poor raise our minds and hearts to the social dimensions of the Christian message."

Some may "feel that it would be a mistake to let the poor evangelize the church, because this would drag the church down," Bishop Lyke ventured. However, he added, just "look what has happened to the church in Latin America in the last 20 years." He said:

"A church which once identified with the rich and powerful is now very much identified with the people. A tremendous renewal is taking place throughout the Latin American church.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago we were sending priests, religious and lay missioners to Latin America thinking that we were going to be the 'great saviors.' Our missionaries returned saying that they received far more than they gave. . . .

"They saw the great spiritual, cultural and personal riches of the poor people they served." (Bishop Lyke's speech, titled "When the Poor Evangelize the Church," appeared in the edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service dated June 5, 1980.)