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World/National News

March 14, 2013

New pope is 1st Francis, saint of peace, poverty

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In choosing a name no other pope had ever taken, Pope Francis could be signaling that he sees the need for change in the Roman Catholic church.

The name recalls two of the church’s most famous saints.

One is Francis of Assisi, the man from the Umbrian hill town who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to found the Franciscan order of friars in 1209, embracing a life of poverty and simplicity and going out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.

The other is Francis Xavier, a globe-trotting Spaniard who became one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries, and was a founding figure of the Jesuit order, of which the new pope is a member.

Pope Francis didn’t cite either of those famous men when he made his first public speech as pontiff on Wednesday night, but within an hour of his presentation to the world from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, his choice of name was being hailed as heralding what could be his priorities — and perhaps style — at the helm of a troubled church.

Umbria’s bishops sent congratulations in a message noting that the new pope had taken up name of the saint of Assisi, one of Italy’s patron saints who in his time sought to “renew the church.”

“It was precisely Francis the Lord asked to repair his church in ruins,” the bishops said.

Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, had explained his resignation last month — the first pontiff to step down in 600 years — by saying he didn’t have the mental or physical stamina to shepherd the church, rocked by scandals and confidential leaks in the Vatican’s bureaucracy and losing many faithful to secularism or more dynamic forms of worship.

Since Francis is associated with peacemaking, the choice of name could foretell the pope’s priority to bring a sense of serenity to a church feeling rudderless by Benedict’s departure.

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