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By Br. F. Edward Coughlin, O.F.M.
o the cheers of throngs packed into
Saint Peter's Square on a rainy
evening, the white smoke was fol-
lowed by the announcement "habemus
... Franciscus" (We have a Pope,
Francis). As the network announcers
scrambled to find out something about
the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario
Bergoglio, S.J., who had just been elected
pope, most of the world wondered:
Who is he?
What is the significance of his
choice of the name Francis?
The answer to both of those questions
quickly began to unfold as Pope Francis
emerged on the balcony in his unadorned
white cassock and said, "Brothers and sis-
ters, good evening. You know that the task
of the conclave was to give Rome a bishop.
It seems my brother cardinals went to the
end of the earth to find one."
Before he offered a blessing, he bowed
and asked the Church of Rome, his dio-
cese, to bless him as the one who was
called to "preside in charity over all the
From that moment, Pope Francis' every
movement and gesture was carefully ob-
served and analyzed as if to better under-
stand, in a concrete and practical way,
Francis of Assisi's admonition that the
brothers "preach by their deeds" (Earlier
, XVII.3).
Pope Francis rode the bus with the car-
dinals to dinner after his brief appearance
on the balcony. He returned to his hotel
to pay his bill and personally thanked
those who had cared for him. Within a
few days, he washed the feet of incarcer-
ated young adult men and women --
Christian and Muslim -- at a Holy Thurs-
day service. He warmly embraced a se-
verely crippled adult on the edge of the
crowd and, to the delight of everyone in
the square, reached out to grab a jersey
from the Argentine soccer team he had
personally supported. Again:
Who is this man?
What is his message?
As the personal life story of Jesuit Cardi-
nal Bergoglio's simple life, relationships
and concern for the poor and the margin-
alized in particular emerged, his identifica-
tion with the universally admired, but not
easily imitated, Francis of Assisi, seemed al-
most obvious.
With the small group of brothers whom
the "Lord had given him," Francis sought
the approval of the Bishop of Rome in
1209 to live according to the "form of the
Holy Gospel" (Test. 14).
As they travelled through central Italy,
struggled to hear and to live according to
the truth of the Gospel, and confronted
the discord and disorder they encoun-
tered in their medieval world, Francis and
his companions articulated a new form of
religious life, which was formally ap-
proved by Pope Honorius III in 1223.
As St. Bonaventure would later argue in
the Major Legend of St. Francis (1263), it
was as if the Lord had given Francis of As-
sisi as a "light [=truth] for believers," so
that "by bearing witness to the [truth] he
might prepare a way of [truth] and peace
to the hearts of the faithful" (LM, prol. 2).
In the first months of his papacy, Pope
Francis has captured the attention of the
His warm smile and desire to be happily
among (inter) even those who are "often
looked down upon" (ER, IX.1) have raised
up questions among men and women
across the globe who wonder:
Why is he like this?
Why does he choose to live
"this way"?
What or who is it that inspires
As Pope Paul VI suggested in his en-
cyclical On Evangelization (1975, n. 21),
questions such as these raise even deeper
questions and are, in fact, a first procla-
mation of the Gospel -- evangelization.
In the early decades of the 13th cen-
tury, Francis of Assisi's faith-centered
choices, brotherly love of all persons and
creatures, and steadfastness in his com-
mitment to the Gospel way, proposed an
alternative pathway to peace. In a similar
way, Pope Francis' choices have given the
world a glimpse of an alternative vision of
what it means to be Catholic -- the People
of God -- in the early years of the 21st
While Pope Francis faces numerous chal-
lenges from both within and outside the
church, it is hoped that he, too, in his own
way, might provide a way of light and
peace in a divided and discordant world.
May he continue to, in the words of Francis
of Assisi, "preach by [his] deeds."
Br. Ed is vice president for Franciscan
Mission at St. Bonaventure.

Franciscan Minute
What does it mean to be a 21st century Catholic?
Photo by Stephen Driscoll/Catholic News Agency
Pope Francis greets a young visitor in St. Peter's Square May 22.