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BOB ABERNETHY: Finally, since Jesus’s time, one of the most revered figures in all Christianity has been Saint Francis of Assisi. For the new pope to have chosen Francis as his new name may say a lot about his priorities.
Saint Francis was born in central Italy in the 12th century. There’s a basilica there where Francis heard Jesus tell him to rebuild his church. The opulence of that church today is just the opposite of the poverty Saint Francis chose. He had been born rich but gave up everything he owned, even his clothes, in order to live as he believed Jesus wanted—in poverty, caring for those Jesus called “the least of these.” Catholics today still cite that standard, referring to “a preferential option for the poor.”
To Francis, every living being was holy and valuable. He once kissed the hands of lepers.
He loved nature and all living creatures. He preached to the birds and spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. In his name many churches today bless the animals.
In his most famous prayer, Francis asked the Lord to make him “an instrument of thy peace.” He once tried to stop a battle between Crusaders and Muslims.
Peacemakers, mystics, environmentalists and champions of the poor—all of them might well be wishing Pope Francis will carry on the priorities of Saint Francis, as well as his name.