Bill Morris, Emeritus Bishop of Toowoomba, Queensland from an address given for WATAC (Women and the Australian Church) given in the theatrette of the NSW Parliament on 26th March 2013. Unfortunately due to a tape malfunction the last few minutes of this address was lost. Catholica has published the transcript of Bishop Morris's closing words here
"What do you think will happen with this Pope?
He's going to turn things around like John XXIII. He has already started making gestures. The first, which had an impact on those who saw it, was when he went out on the balcony in his white caplet and said: "Before giving you the blessing, I'm going to ask you to give it to me." He turned it around, put the people ahead of power. That was in Vatican II."
Others will also recall it now, but I am grateful to Mark Chater, director of Culham St Gabriel's Trust in Oxford, for reminding me of one of the most significant sayings said to have been received from Christ by St Francis of Assisi: "Francis, go repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely to ruin."
Francis is the name the new pope, Argentinian Cardinal-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, has chosen as his pontifical monicker. Both Cardinal Doolan and the Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the official Vatican spokesperson, confirmed that the new pope chose the name in honour of St Francis of Assisi.
The resonance with a 12th century Saint who is revered well beyond Catholicism, who is recognised for his humility and voluntary poverty, who is an inspiration to peacemakers, and above all who challenged a wealthy and top-heavy Church, looks very powerful in the context of the crises the Vatican is currently presiding over -- not least within its own structures and culture.
There is also a nominal connection, of course, with the pioneering 16th century Jesuit missionary priest Francis Xavier, whose global vision saw the Christian message spread to India, Japan, Borneo and the Moluccas. His is a toponymic name (related to a region) derived from etxaberri, meaning "new house" in the Basque language. That might suggest a certain disposition towards the Church and its challenges from the new papal incumbent, too.
As for St Francis' vision of Christ and call to repair the Church, the foundation of the field chapel of San Damiano (http://www.sandamianofoundation.org/), situated a mile outside the walls of Assisi, recounts the story in the following way.
Back in Francis' time, the simple, poor church was half in ruins following years of neglect. In 1205, in response to God's grace, Francis was in the midst of transforming his life. He was beginning to feel the presence of God in all he saw and in everyone he met. More and more, Francis was able to see the image of Christ in the poor and afflicted. He was not just seeing things, but seeing through things. After embracing a leper, Francis sought to discover an inner unity within himself and an outward unity with others. He had a deep desire to dedicate himself to a life of solitude and prayer, and an equally strong desire to serve the poor and spread the Good News of Christ. His large heart was divided: he felt a call to prayer and a call to service. And so, one day he entered the decaying little Church of San Damiano to seek God's will.
Light flooded in through the partially collapsed roof as Francis humbly knelt in prayer in front of a large, painted Byzantine cross which hung above the altar. During what may have been a long, intense period of prayer, a voice broke through the silence of the abandoned church. It was Christ speaking. And he said, "Francis, go repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely to ruin."
Francis took the words he heard as a direct order to restore the church. Brick by brick, he rebuilt it, begging for all the supplies he needed. By 1206, the restoration of the church was completed. After restoring that and other small churches, Francis began the progressively more difficult tasks of restoring the universal Church and restoring himself.
The symbolism of all this will be immensely powerful, not least for those whose hope and prayer is for a wind of revivifying change to blow through the corridors of the modern Catholic Church, and perhaps especially its hierarchy and Curia (administrative bureaucracy).
Robert Micken, correspondent of The Tablet newspaper, currently in Rome, said this evening (13 March 2013) that we might expect not just a challenge to the ruling bureaucracy, but "a reform to simplicity" from Pope Francis. It will be fascinating to see what unfolds.
* Papal #conclave: news, comment, background and analysis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PapalConclave
* Analysis: What can we expect from Pope Francis I?, by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18166
* A 'religious pope': what difference it could make for the Catholic Church, Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18167
* More on Pope Francis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PopeFrancis