The vision and name of Pope Francis

By choosing a new name, every new Pope signals, in a simple but profound way, the vision they see for their leadership. It reveals their own personal reading of the “sign of the times.” At the end of Vatican II, when made Pope, Cardinal Giovanni Montini chose the name Paul VI, signaling that he saw his role as a time for evangelization and announcing the good news of Vatican II. Pope John Paul II whose focus during his papacy would be the implementation of Vatican II, chose a name stemmed from the two Popes who oversaw the council, Pope John XXIII and Paul VI.

Now Cardinal Bergoglio has chosen the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. This name speaks volumes about our new Pope’s vision of the sign of the times and the direction he wants to take the Church. By choosing Francis, whose own call began with an answer to the voice of God, saying, “Francis, go rebuild my Church,” our new Pope has taken the name Francis to show us the way forward in this moment of New Evangelization. It is a time to renew and rebuild the Church, and the model is the personal holiness of Francis. By not choosing a name like Gregory, which would signal reform of the Church through governance and authority, Pope Francis has signaled that the Church renewal can only happen through personal holiness, and not simply programs and policies. The Church is composed of living stones, and those stones must be shaped by love of Christ crucified and the poor, as St. Francis illustrated. Perhaps too, in this era of the New Evangelization, the name Francis evokes the great Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who was the great missionary and patron saint of missionaries!

In the upper Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the great artist Giotto painted a picture of the humble and poor Francis holding up the Pope’s home Church, St. John Lateran, from collapsing. So too, now only time will tell how Pope Francis will go about the work of building up the Church. His humility, holiness, and love of the poor will make him well equipped to be, as Paul referred to his own apostolic role (1 Cor 3:10), a wise master architect in the building up of the Church for a new springtime.

–Tim Gray, Ph. D.