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
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is calling for major changes in the Catholic Church and says the current crises are in large part the result of church power being invested in one gender, which is wholly unacceptable in the 21st century.
Lady Kennedy joined forces with Lord Hylton and feminist and spiritual writer Professor Ursula King at the Houses of Parliament (Tuesday March 5) to sign the Catholic Scholars’Declaration on Authority in the Catholic Church.
The Declaration, calling for a more collegial system of church governance in the church, has already gained the backing of 180 leading theologians and Catholic Scholars worldwide. It has already been submitted to more than 20 cardinal electors in Rome this week.
Professor King signed the Declaration on behalf of women in the church, Lord Hylton signed on behalf of the underprivileged and marginalised, and Lady Kennedy added her signature for all men and women suffering from misguided church rulings on sexual ethics including contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage.
Lady Kennedy said there had been serious crises in the Catholic Church and it faced issues of transparency, accountability and governance.
“The Church has existed for millennia and, like all ancient institutions, it is very slow to change and it is confronted with a number of problems. It is almost exclusively run by men and that is how the world was – we don’t have to see it is as a conspiracy – it was the nature of things.
“The power of the Church is located in one gender. We might dress up the story of women playing important roles in the Church but it is actually a fiction. That is unacceptable in a modern world. I do think it creates a serious dysfunction for the Church.”
Lady Kennedy also called on people in the Church to recognise there is a wholly disproportionate distraction about sex and an unwillingness to accept that in relationships people give expression to their love in many different ways.
She said: “There is nothing unhealthy about having a sex drive. Unfortunately, we still cling to this idea that sex is only about reproduction.”
Lady Kennedy added that in her opinion too much of church culture was based on double standards and she called for the church to enable women to become priests and hold positions of power.
Professor King too demanded changes in church attitudes to women.
She said: “The 21st century is the century for women. In all religions, worldwide, women are beginning to assert their rights. Most religious practitioners are women and they are the ones who pass that practice on to future generations. They need to be able to hold positions within the church authority.”
Representing the underprivileged and marginalised worldwide, Lord Hylton called for the church to actively follow the Second Commandment.
He said: “Loving our neighbour is fundamental – it is a commandment which must be right in the mainstream of the Catholic Church.”
The Declaration on Authority, which opened for endorsement late last year, is demanding a return to the principles of the Second Vatican Council and for a reform of church governance to ensure that the church can meet the spiritual and pastoral challenges of today.
John Wijngaards, Declaration co-ordinator and a leading Catholic scholar, said: “The role of the Pope needs to be re-defined from him being an autocratic top-down manager to a spiritual collegial leader empowered to heal, guide and unify. The central synod of bishops should assume its intended tasks in church-wide leadership. Local bishops’ conferences should be more autonomous. Clergy and laity should have real decision-making powers on diocesan level.
“The election of a new pope is a rare opportunity for the Church to reconsider its systems of governance, to introduce a more democratic system of electing leaders and to reassess the leaders’ accountability to the faithful.
“The Declaration has been signed today for groups of people who have particularly suffered from the systemic failure in church governance. Now is the time for change.”
While most commentators are debating about how the next Pope should be elected or who should fill those shoes, Eduardo Hoornaert, a Brazilian married priest and church historian, suggests it might be time to question the entire institution of the papacy. Hoorneart, one of the founders ofComissão de Estudos da História da Igreja na América Latina (Study Commission on the History of the Church in Latin America), is author of The Memory of the Christian People (Burns & Oates,1989). For those who speak Portuguese, Hoorneart maintains a blog,Textos de Eduardo Hoornaert. This article, translated here into English by Rebel Girl, is available in its original Portuguese on Amerindia and in Spanish on Adital.