The Real Reason The Pope Chose Francis As His Papal Name

Unlike the 23 Johns, 16 Gregorys, and 16 Benedicts that came before him, as tallied by Rome Reports, when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope in 2013, he shattered precedent, according to CNN, by becoming the first pope to choose the name Francis. According to Vatican deputy spokesman Thomas Rosica, he chose the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, "one of the most venerated religious figures in Roman Catholic history," per Britannica

St. Francis of Assisi led the evangelical poverty movement in the 13th century and attracted many followers when he renounced worldly goods and family ties to devote himself to imitating the life of Jesus Christ. Britannica notes that "probably no one in history" has devoted themselves to "carry[ing] out so literally Christ's work in Christ's own way," which is perhaps why some were shocked by the Pope's decision to take the name Francis. As CNN Vatican expert John Allen explained, St. Francis is a "cornerstone figure in Catholicism," making his life and his deeds "irrepeatable — that there can be only one Francis." He went on to opine that by becoming the first Pope Francis, the Pope was "sending a signal that this will not be business as usual."

A new kind of Pope?

Vatican deputy spokesman Thomas Rosica went on to explain to CNN that the Pope had chosen the name Francis because, like Francis of Assisi, "he had a special place in his heart and his ministry for the poor, for the disenfranchised, for those living on the fringes and facing injustice." Pope Francis went on to give a press conference before 5,000 journalists soon after the announcement of his new name, per the Catholic Telegraph, at which he shared that during the voting process, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes "hugged me, kissed me and said, 'Don't forget the poor.'" 

Pope Francis went on to state that he would like a church that is poor and for the poor, and told the assembled press corps that "the church does not have a political nature, but a spiritual one." Two years after his election, the Deseret News reported that in some ways, Pope Francis had gone on to live up to the name, having made financial reforms within the Catholic Church, admonished "high-handed" bishops, and washing the feet of Italian convicts on Holy Thursday, prior to Easter. He also prefers to live in a Vatican guest house instead of the traditional Apostolic Palace, and wears simple clothes and shoes, as opposed to jewel-encrusted vestments and expensive handmade red papal shoes. He keeps his diet simple, too.

Father Robert Wister of Seton Hall University observed the normalcy of Pope Francis compared to his predecessors and suggested that Pope Francis "is saying to all the bishops and priests, 'Keep it simple.'"