Pope named after Francis of Assisi heralded by "gull"
atop Sistine chimney
Newly appointed pontiff Jorge Mario Bergoglio
takes name of Catholic friar portrayed as nature lover – and preacher
The dove has traditionally represented the Holy Spirit but it was a bird with
a rather less divine reputation that heralded the name of the new pope. As
the crowds massed in front of the Vatican, a seagull alighted on the chimney
from which smoke billows to indicate the outcome of the papal ballot in the
Sistine Chapel below.
The newly appointed pontiff, the Argentinian cardinal
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will take the name of Pope Francis, after Francis of
Assisi, the much-loved Italian patron saint of animals and the environment
who is often portrayed with a bird, usually in his hand."The name the
new pope chooses tells a lot about the thrust of his papacy," said
Ambrogio Piazzoni, a church historian and vice-prefect of the Vatican library.
Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis
waves from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica's after being elected the 266th
pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13.
The best known tale about Saint Francis's love
of nature is recounted in the Fioretti (Little Flowers), a collection of legends
and folklore. The story says that while he was travelling with some companions,
they came upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees. Francis told
his companions to wait for him while he preached to his sisters the birds,
which flocked to him – supposedly attracted by the power of his voice.The
saint, a rich young man from the town of Assisi in Umbria who renounced wealth
and founded the Franciscan order of friars in 1290, is also identified with
peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle, which is in keeping with the current
period of recession and austerity. The choice could foretell the pope's priorities
in striving to bring a sense of serenity to the troubled church. Francis is
said to have been called by God to repair a church in ruins. Choosing the name
of one of Italy's patron saints also ties the new pope to Italy, the homeland
of all popes for 450 years until 1978. Bergoglio is Pope Francis I. The last
pontiff to take a new name rather than one that honours a predecessor was Pope
John Paul I, 35 years ago.
The previous pope Benedict XVI said he had chosen
the name in order to follow the example of the early 20th-century Pope Benedict
XV, who led the church through the first world war and its aftermath. When
he became pope in 1978, Karol Wojtyla chose to keep the name of his immediate
predecessor, John Paul I, in deference to the earlier pope's short-lived papacy.
John Paul II had also reportedly considered Stanislaw, in homage
to the patron saint of his native Poland. Until the first millennium,
popes were called by their first names. The exception was the sixth-century
pope John II, who decided his actual name, Roman Mercurius, was unsuitable
with its association to a pagan deity. Giuseppe Roncalli, who succeeded him
almost a millennium and a half later, opted to become John XXIII because the
church in which he was baptised in the small town of Sotto il Monte in northern
Italy bore the name of John the Baptist. Over the 2,000 year history of the
church the most popular name is John followed by Gregory, and Benedict. One
name remains a definite no go because it lies beyond the boundaries of spiritual
and temporal modesty, Peter II.