Pope 'Francis' a nod to unity, outreach
Pope Francis, flanked at left by Cardinal Agostino Vallino, and at right by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, walks inside St. Mary Major Basilica, in Rome today.
Pope Francis speaks Wednesday from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
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Molly Comperatore, a senior at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa., didn't need white smoke to tell her that a new pope had been elected Wednesday afternoon.
Her mother texted her.
Miss Comperatore immediately went to the student lounge, where a group was watching the news on television.
"Everyone said that we should get a day off school tomorrow," she said. "His name is Francis, and we should have a holiday."
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's choice of the name "Pope Francis" means a lot to the staff and faculty at Saint Francis University, located 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1847, it was the first Franciscan college in the nation. Today it has an academic staff of 240 and more than 1,800 undergraduates.
Students are required to learn about St. Francis of Assisi during their freshman or sophomore years.
"It's more of a study of Franciscan values," said the Rev. Joseph Lehman, director of mission integration at the university. "Concern for the poor, reaching out to those who are marginalized in our world, caring for creation. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of the environment. He preached peace and told his friars to be joyful."
Pope Francis' choice of the name honors a man who set out to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil during the 13th century. It also evokes images of Francis Xavier, one of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order that is known for its scholarship and outreach.
"I think this shows that our new pope is concerned about unity, both in our church and in our world," Father Lehman said. "Francis of Assisi reached out to the leader of the Muslim faith, the sultan of Egypt, and had a good, respectful dialog with him."
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said the choice of the name Francis is meaningful.
"I think the message our Holy Father has already begun to let us know is he wants to be a shepherd to the people," he said. "To look at the choice of Francis. I think, once again, he speaks of simplicity, a life of boldness, a life, if you will, of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in very profound but simple ways."
The Rev. Tim Whalen, director of the seminary at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, said all popes carefully choose a name that is symbolic.
"He's saying he wants to be one with the poor and the marginalized in society, and that's a great thing. It's a wonderful thing," Father Whalen said. "That's what the church is all about. It's reaching out to those who need love and care the most."
It's "striking that the new pope has chosen the name Francis," said Jonathan Seitz, a professor of history and politics at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
St. Francis "sought a reformation and a rebuilding of the church, seeking to act in the world rather than withdraw from it," Mr. Seitz said. "The implication to me from the choice of a new name, and the name chosen, is that a change is in store."
Miss Comperatore said the new pope appears to embody the values she learned about St. Francis in class.
"He seems very humble and lives in a small apartment and cooks his own food. He doesn't have a chauffeur or anything," she said after watching a profile of him on TV. "I'm hoping because he's from South America, he'll have more of a focus on the poor, and we can have more outreach to Third World countries.
"Obviously, if he is a good pope, if he can make people aware of the values St. Francis had and the values that Saint Francis University has."
There are 22 Franciscan colleges in the United States, but only four bear the name St. Francis.
"It's the first time a pope has taken this name, and we're going to have a lot of pride for that," Father Lehman said of his university's namesake. "We're ecstatic. We think it's great here.
"I think we're going to milk that one."
Correction, posted March 14, 2013: Loretto, Cambria County, is east of Pittsburgh. An earlier version of this story had the location incorrect.
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am