At the conclave of 2013, as the votes arrived to elect Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the new pope, one of the cardinals whispered to him, “Don’t forget the poor.” Immediately Bergoglio “thought of Francis of Assisi . . . the man of poverty, peace, who loves and takes care of creation. . . .” And so he became the first pope to choose the name Francis.
As soon became clear, the choice of a name implied an agenda, a program for renewal. St. Francis, after all, was the saint who set out to rebuild the Church by evoking the example and spirit of the Poor Man, Jesus. St. Francis spurned violence and privilege. He reached out to members of other religions. He cherished the earth and all its creatures. He pointed to a new form of human and cosmic community, marked by love and mercy. And he did all this with a spirit of joy and freedom.
Ten years into the papacy of Pope Francis, the inspiration of St. Francis is evident. His encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home was inspired by Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures. Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship was inspired by St. Francis’s meeting with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil.
For many Christians over the past thousand years, the example of St. Francis has offered a distinctive key to the Gospel. Among the central features of that key: an option for the poor and those on the margins, a resolve to live the Beatitudes, and a determination to proclaim the Gospel not only with words but with one’s life.
“I think St. Francis of Assisi is in the depths of every human being, for all are touched by grace—just as the call to holiness is in the depths of every human being.” —Carlo Carretto