Pope Francis: The Meaning Behind the Name

Celebrates St. Francis of Assisi: Vatican
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 14, 2013 6:18 AM CDT
Updated Mar 14, 2013 7:49 AM CDT
In this Aug. 7, 2009 file photo, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, right, greets faithful outside the San Cayetano church in Buenos Aires. On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Bergoglio was elected pope.   (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
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(Newser) – So we've got a new pope, and he's got a new name—but what exactly does the moniker mean? It's a salute to St. Francis of Assisi, says a Vatican spokesman.

  • For a Jesuit pope, the choice is a nod to the Franciscans, often seen as Jesuit rivals. As a Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio's choice of the name says he wants to be "the people's pope, a pope who cares about the poor, who wants to have solidarity with the people of the world," a theology expert tells NPR.

  • It also could suggest his hope to rebuild a church in disrepair, says another expert: St. Francis was said to have heard a command to rebuild a chapel that was falling apart. He was known as an opponent of greed, having given up material wealth. The name "clearly gestures that the Roman Catholic Church not only serves the poor, the Roman Catholic Church is the church of the poor," a divinity school professor tells USA Today.
  • However, the name could also align with St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits, NBC 4 reports. That Francis was an early missionary, traveling to India to spread his faith. "Every guy that takes vows as a Jesuit commits himself really to that understanding of being a missionary, whether he's teaching in a high school or whether he's serving in the foreign missions," says a Jesuit leader.
  • What about the lack of a number: Should Francis be Francis I? Turns out John Paul I was apparently the only pope to use a "I," NPR notes, and that was a personal decision. Francis will be numberless.
(Read more Pope Francis stories.)

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