The original Francis

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THE election of a new Pope, in the person of the Cardinal from Buenos Aires, has served to fill many column inches in the world’s press.

Some, of course, have been digging for dirt, and questioning the role he played during the days of dictatorship in his native Argentina. But the name he has chosen for his Pontificate, however, would appear to give a more dependable clue to what truly matters to the man who will be known as Pope Francis.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has stated that the name Francis was chosen because of his respect for the founder of the Franciscan order of monks, the man known to history as Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).

Born into a wealthy home in that Italian town, he renounced all his wealth and possessions, when, meditating before a crucifix, he had an overpowering experience of the love of Christ as revealed in his Cross.

Of that experience, his most celebrated biographer Paul Sabatier (I bless the day my eyes lit on that treasured volume in a second-hand bookshop in St. Andrews!), wrote: ‘His union with Christ is consummated; from this time he can exclaim with the mystics of every age, “My beloved is mine and I am his”.

“From that day the remembrance of the Crucified One...became the very centre of his religious life. For the first time, Francis had been brought into direct, personal, intimate contact with Jesus Christ.”

Instead of his expensive clothing, he now wore a peasant’s cloak, tied at the waist with a piece of chord, journeying through the cities of Italy, and Europe, preaching the message of the Cross.

The impact was immediate. “All Europe woke with a start”, wrote Sabatier, “and whatever was best in humanity leaped to follow his footsteps”.

In his idiosyncratic way, he preached even to the birds. His new manner of life was a sermon in itself; indeed, he encouraged his followers always to preach, and sometimes to use words!

Words attributed to St. Francis are used by Christians of all denominations, and even, on her election as Prime Minister, by that most unlikely Franciscan, Margaret Thatcher. They are words that should express the hope of every believing heart;

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.