Lifestyle & Belief

Who was St. Francis of Assisi? New pope honors revered saint, Catholic name (VIDEO)


Pope Benedict XVI visits St. Francis's tomb during his one-day visit to Assisi on June 17, 2007 in Assisi, Italy.



When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio selected the name Francis I as new pope, he chose a name with deep meaning and special reverence in the Catholic Church.

Cardinals from around the world nominated Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, on Wednesday to lead the globe's 1.2 billion Catholics.

In turn, the 76-year-old Jesuit broke somewhat with tradition by choosing to be called Francis, a first for the church, reportedly in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

So who was the famous saint? Born to a wealthy cloth merchant from Umbria, Italy about 1181 or 1182, Francis enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and embraced all the trappings money could offer.

“In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue (entourage) of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice,” his biographer, Thomas of Celano, once said.

Not even becoming a prisoner of war — he fought when Assisi warred with neighboring Perugia — slowed down Francis.

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According to Catholic tradition, it wasn’t until Francis (whose father paid a ransom for his release) embarked on the Fourth Crusade that God spoke to him in a dream.

Francis was just one day into his journey before turning back home.

He devoted himself to the church after that, but it wasn't until years later at San Damiano that Jesus spoke to Francis from the cross and said, “Francis, go and repair my house.”

The choice of the name "Francis" could provide an indication of what the new pope considers a priority, CNN said.

"The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual," CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen said.

That is because, upon hearing God, Francis renounced all his possessions and began preaching, building a following into the Franciscan Order. He embraced the poor and poverty, eventually becoming one of two patron saints of Italy, animals, ecology and merchants.

St. Francis so loved animals, in fact, he was known to preach to flocks of birds and reputedly tamed a wild wolf preying upon men in Gubbio.

Francis approached the animal and said, "Brother wolf, I command thee, in the name of Christ, to follow me immediately."

The wolf, apparently, remained a valued addition to the town for two years until its death of old age.

As for Pope Francis I, he's following a centuries-old tradition.

Cardinals choose papal names to acknowledge they’ve accepted a task from God, one theologian said.

“In the Bible, when you get a new job from God, you pick a new name or you’re given a new name,” William Portier, chairman of Catholic theology at University of Dayton, told CTV News.

“They feel they’ve been chosen to do this very weighty job and they need a name that will sort of help them and inspire them. … It’s also a signal to the rest of the church and the world.”

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