Pope Francis: The Meaning Behind the Name

Celebrates St. Francis of Assisi: Vatican

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 14, 2013 6:18 AM CDT | Updated Mar 14, 2013 7:49 AM CDT

(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.

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)
A woman reads a newspaper showing the news of the election of Pope Francis in Rome, Thursday, March 14, 2013.   (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
In this 2008 photo, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio talks with a man as he rides the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina.   (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin)
Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis looks at the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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