Pope Francis is the first pontiff to reach into the 13th century and choose the name of a humble Christian called St. Francis of Assisi. How significant for the Catholic Church and for Orthodox and Protestant Christians!
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, has already set the tone of change for the better. He said the basis for his life is from Matthew 25, where Jesus reminds us that He came for the poor, for the least of these.
Ten years ago, my wife and I were in Galena, Ill., and happened to visit the studio of a sculptor who had just completed a bronze called "Compassion: Francis and the Leper." It helps reveal a historic event on the road out of Assisi, Italy. With the help of friends, we bought it.
Francis was then a playboy son of a wealthy merchant and a mercenary in the warfare between city-states. Coming down the road was an emaciated leper, covered with sores and in the final stages of this dreaded disease. Dismounting, Francis removed his cloak, wrapped it around the leper, kissed him and went on his way.
Looking back, he saw that the man had disappeared. Francis believed he had seen Jesus. From this encounter, Francis renounced his father's wealth and set out to minister to the poor and sick, establishing hospitals and hospices. After the tragic crusades, the church turned a page of history. A new church was emerging.
Pope Francis is sending a message by name and example to a world torn by strife and fear. We hunger for a culture that loves God and our neighbor. An end to those foolish, unnecessary wars, and a love for the lepers among us.
Welcome, Pope Francis!