Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kresta Commentary: We Need a New St. Francis

Al Kresta
March 14, 2013 
You know you are in the presence of greatness when your only reservation about someone is his age. We have a new pope and, the worst thing that observant Catholics can say about him, is that he is a bit older than they had hoped. Pope Francis is the ninth oldest Pope elected in the last half of our history.
He has the aura of reform and novelty about him. He is the first Jesuit, first non-European, first Latin American and the first Francis. .
What’s in a name? Quite a bit when it comes to papal names.  Cardinal George and Cardinal Dolan in interviews have both said that Pope Francis was thinking of Francis of Assisi, the most popular saint around the world and one who heard Christ command “Rebuild my Church.”  Francis is often called a second Christ because of his humility, sanctity, and influence. Francis is known for hugging the leper which calls to mind Cardinal Bergoglio’s washing and kissing the feet of dying AIDS patients at a hospice in Argentina. In an age in which so many people are concerned about the environment, it’s a plus to have a Pope named after the saint who wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun, Sister Moon and preached to the beasts. Catholics are facing persecution at the hands of Muslim dominated countries around the world and Francis of Assisi is remembered for his courage and humility in presenting the gospel to the reigning Muslim sultan.  So instructive is this incident that Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, just sponsored an entire conference dedicated to the Saint’s encounter with the Sultan. Francis of Assisi is renowned for his humility and simplicity which is a hallmark of Pope Francis’ spirituality. Already he has refused to get into the papal limousine choosing instead to ride in the shuttle bus with the other Cardinals. He turned down the elevated chair in which a new Pope meets the Cardinals who elected him. And he selected a simple rather than an ornate cross as his own.
While we await Cardinal Bergoglio’s public statement on Francis of Assisi, we can’t help but think of another Francis who is close to him. As the former Jesuit authority in his region of South America, Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Jesuits would have been a possible choice.  St. Francis Xavier is renowned for his world missionary efforts and brought the gospel to India, Japan, Borneo and had hoped to evangelize China. He refused to let the conflict among European Christians during the reformation keep him from carrying out the world missionary enterprise of the Church.
As with Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis gives every appearance of being a spiritual thoroughbred.  He will teach and exhibit a reform of the heart. Because he operates in that humility, he will have the courage and confidence to reform the house of the Vatican which has been embarrassed by a number of scandals and irregularities. As a professor of theology and rector of a seminary, he is intellectually vibrant and has opposed the problems of South America’s liberation theology movement. He has stood against the government of Argentina in opposing gay so-called marriage. He is known as a pro-life champion who has a reputation for social justice. He is a Catholic theologian who has written a book with a Jewish rabbi.
When I think of this new pontificate I am already thinking in terms of a series of Rs: Reform, Re-evangelize, Reconcile and Restore.  Reform the heart in order to reform the house. Re-evangelize the Christian world while launching a renaissance of our world missionary enterprise. Reconcile Catholics who have allowed themselves to be divided by a false split between social justice and pro-life allegiances and at the same time work on the restoration of all Christians into one body. To accomplish these ends requires a new St. Francis. Pray that he will be given the grace to show us one.


  1. Um...St. Peter was the first non-European Pope.

  2. If you really want to know how much empathy St. Francis of Assisi had for animals, read the story of Brother Juniper cutting off a foot of a live pig as told in The Little Flowers of St. Francis. After I read it, the admiration I once had for St. Francis turned to scorn.

  3. Wonderful and very thoughtful reflection, thanks a lot Al for sharing. By the way just adding and confirming the first comment, we had Popes from Asia (as the holy land "Jerusalem" other than Peter and from Syria) and Africa (precisely from North Africa which was overwhelmingly Christian before Islam), so only the Americas and Australia (continent-wise) never gave us a Pope before Pope Francis I.

  4. Thank you, Al for an informative commentary. Also, if you come across writings of Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio in English, would you share them with us? I have found that his theological works in English are precious few! I have only found one letter he wrote so far.

  5. CNN, as usual, got it wrong here (see link below) when they said that the Pope belongs to "the most conservative" wing of the Church.

    I agree with Al Kresta. He's socially a reformer, leading the Church towards its roots in the apostles and martyrs and towards its future in poverty and renewal. As far as I can see, his thinking is completely in line with what the Church considers "orthodox" and has been captured in the teachings of Christ for 2000 years.

  6. I'm listening to the show today. Emphasizing Pope Francis's simplicity (using public transportation, cooking his own meals, choosing a simple cross rather than an ornate one) makes the other popes and cardinals sound like pampered brats.

  7. Here is Pope Francis' First Homily:

    It is short. I listened to him deliver it in Italian and I was struck by how slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully he delivered it. I challenge you to read it in the same spirit that it was given.

  8. Al, lots more writings from then Cardinal Bergoglio can be seen in this Catholic Answers Forums thread. :)