'I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor', says Pope Francis

By staff writers
March 17, 2013

The new spiritual head of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has told them and the world's media, "I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor."

The comment, in front of an audience of 6,000 correspondents in Rome, came as part of an explanation from the pontiff as to why he had chosen the name Francis.

The Pope explained: "Some people didn't know why the Bishop of Rome wanted to call himself 'Francis'. Some though of Francis Xavier, Francis de Sales ... I will tell you the story. At the election I had the archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo next to me. He is also prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a dear, dear friend.

"When things were getting a little 'dangerous', he comforted me. And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the Pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: 'Do not forget the poor.' And that word stuck here [tapping his forehead]; the poor, the poor.

"Then, immediately in relation to the poor I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of war, while the voting continued, until all the votes [were counted]. And so the name came to my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who love and safeguards Creation. In this moment when our relationship with Creation is not so good—right?—He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!"

He also said that the Church as a corporate body should not operate as a merely institutional or political entity, "[it] is essentially spiritual: it is the people of God, the holy people of God who walk toward the encounter with Jesus Christ."

"Christ is the centre, the fundamental reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, neither Peter nor the Church would exist or have a reason for being," Pope Francis declared, commenting on his own role.

Though deeply conservative on bioethics and sexuality, and critical of some aspects of liberation theology, Pope Francis is seen as wanting to reform the way the Catholic Church operates and is seen - especially in relation to the Vatican and the Curia.

He is known to have adopted a simple lifestyle in Argentina, but now finds himself in opulent surroundings. After he was introduced to a waiting world on the balcony at St Peter's Basilica on 13 March, the new Pope declined a limousine to transport him back to his accommodation.

When shown the papal apartments, Francis is reported to have said: "I don't need all this space. You could house 300 people here." He also supposed to have turned down the chance to wear a traditional red cape and shoes, saying: "You wear it... the carnival is over."

The new pontiffs' habit of speaking less formally and improvising or interpolating comments is said to be alarming some in the Vatican, who have become used to closely monitored and dense scripts.

After personally greeting some of the journalists present, Pope Francis, in Spanish, concluded: “Many of you don't belong to the Catholic Church, others are not believers. From my heart I impart this blessing, in silence, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each one, but knowing that each of you is a child of God: May God bless you.”

Also on Ekklesia:

* A new pope - headlines are simple; the truth is complex: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18180

* More on Pope Francis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PopeFrancis

* Background to the papal conclave: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PapalConclave


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