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March 21, 2013

The New Pope: What’s in a Name?

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to lead the more than 1 billion member Roman Catholic Church was met with widespread praise, and many have found much to admire in the new pope’s humility and initial focus. At The HSUS, we were heartened to learn that the new pontiff selected a name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor as well as animals and the environment.

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His two most recent predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, spoke of our call to care for creation and each expressed concern for the treatment of animals.

We’re hopeful that Pope Francis will put even more emphasis on caring for God’s creatures, and he’s off to a great start. In his homily on Tuesday, Francis said, "The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.” He goes on to say, “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Over the weekend, Francis bestowed a blessing on a guide dog who was accompanying a journalist with a visual impairment. While there will be speculation about the meaning behind these small acts in the early going, Francis’ words say a great deal about what we can hope for in the coming years.

When speaking with the media just days after his selection, Francis said, “Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! … And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?”

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