Papa Francesco! In the damp darkness of St. Peter's Square, the crowds chanted his name when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, was named the new pope. Seldom has a religious leader been embraced so warmly across the Christian world, including by many evangelicals. Seldom has hope risen so high so quickly. And the hope has arisen for good reason.
Since the Reformation, many of the names chosen by popes—Pius, Clement, Leo, Urban, even Benedict—sound quaint to non-Catholic ears. But the humble Francis of Assisi is a saint for everyone. Francis challenged the church of his day—not by conforming to the standards of the world but by returning to the pattern of Jesus, the one who did not seek status but humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:5–11).
Early on, in a radical act of dispossession, Francis broke decisively with his former life as a soldier and playboy. He stripped off his clothes and ran out of the bishop's palace stark naked, saying, "I will no longer be called the son of Pietro Bernardone. From now on I shall say simply, 'Our Father, who art in heaven.' "
We see already an intimation of Saint Francis in Pope Francis. There is his simple apparel: black street shoes instead of the calfskin red of his predecessors, simple white cassock minus gold-embroidered accessories. In addition, a pope who lives in a modest guest house (versus the spacious papal apartments), worships on Maundy Thursday with young prisoners, and who embraces hiv/aids patients in a hospice follows in the steps of il poverello, "the poor one," as Saint Francis was called.
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