Today people everywhere in the world are celebrating the “little poor man” named Francis of Assisi. This man who loved all of creation talked to the birds and is the reason why churches have blessing celebrations of animals of all kinds. Even more radical in the 12th century was his love of all human beings including the lepers and other outcasts that he embraced in the name of Christ. Although he was a rich man, he, like Christ, “emptied himself” to become a servant of all, owning nothing, just going around preaching love and trying to “rebuild the Church” in love. One commentator says that “Francis was poor only that he might be Christ-like. Poverty had a sister, humility, which for Francis meant total dependence on a good God.” People thought he was deranged until they began to realize that he was just trying to be radically Christian, rooted in the life of Christ so totally that everything, even the worst suffering, caused him the joy of union.
The world was rocked in March of 2013 when the new Pope was announced as having chosen Francis as his name. No previous pontiff had done so, nor had any begun his pontificate by bowing to the crowds and in humility asking all to pray a blessing for him. He has followed the pattern of St. Francis over the past 18 months choosing to live simply in community rather than in the papal palace, washing the feet of prisoners, visiting the sick, blessing children and preaching love, forgiveness, peace and non-judgment wherever he goes.
Institutions are more complex than in the time of St. Francis, maybe more corrupt as well, although perhaps not. Nevertheless, it is clear that this new papacy is about “rebuilding the Church” sending ripples of love and hope throughout the known world. In speaking of his patron saint, Pope Francis has said: “For me he is a man of poverty, a man of peace, a man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us his spirit of peace, the poor man. How I would love to have a Church which is poor for the poor.” May his vision flourish and his love be a beacon for people everywhere.