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In the immediate aftermath of the announcement that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had become the first pope to take the name Francis, it was assumed by many that his choice was meant to honor Francis of Assisi.
That might be off the mark.
Marquette University President Father Scott Pilarz, a Jesuit like the new pope, noted Wednesday that one of the greatest Jesuit saints was Francis Xavier. Pilarz said Francis Xavier was a friend of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius Loyola.
Pilarz said having a fellow Jesuit named pope “means an awful lot.”
“He is a brother of mine in this worldwide religious order that I, and so many others, belong to,” Pilarz said. “He would be steeped in the same spiritual tradition that I call home, too. He was called in the context of the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola.”
“I think it is energizing for us,” Pilarz said. “It has never happened before, we never had a member of the Jesuits elected pope.”
Much of the speculation about the new pope’s connection to the name Francis centered on his humility – a trait particularly attached to St. Francis of Assisi – and to Francis of Assisi’s mission of building the church. The perception was that the new pope was referencing some of the problems facing the church today, and by his choice calling for re-building the church. Some also saw a call to unity in the idea of a Jesuit taking the name associated with a different religious order, the Franciscans.
Pilarz offered another perspective.
“We always had a very special relationship with the pope. Unlike any other religious order, Jesuits take a vow of obedience to the pope to go anywhere where we are needed.”
“Loyola sent Xavier to India and then Japan,” Pilarz said. He said Xavier was “famous for spreading the Gospel.”