What’s in a name? Since the Holy Father chose to be the first Pope Francis in history, many people have been speculating about the significance of this.
Francisco Gearóid Ó Conaire OFM is a co-executive secretary of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Union of Superiors General (USG/UISG) and he is based in Rome. He reflects upon St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis – and throws in a bit of St Francis Xavier for good measure. Interview by Michelle Hough.
“St Francis saw the whole of creation as one big family under God. If we and the whole of creation are all from the same Father, we’re related to each other. If you’re connected to and are related to each other, you have a responsibility to each other,” said Francisco.
On creating him Patron of Ecology in 1979, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote: ‘The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples’.”
St Francis and poverty
“The great thing about St Francis was that poverty wasn’t about not having things but it was about being detached from things. Things aren’t ours, they’re God’s and if we are given gifts they’re for others.
“People have been talking about the Church getting ‘back to basics’ and about all of us following Jesus and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, as was St Francis. It’s about a more collaborative and participative Church.”
A man of peace
“St Francis would go ‘without gold, silver, or money’, without any sign of power or wealth. His only mission was to announce peace.”
Relationship with God
“Imitation of and union with Christ was his goal and he preached this to the whole world.”
St Francis was the first person who began inter-religious dialogue
“At the time of the Crusades, St Francis went to the Holy Land and was in a camp with the crusaders. He left and crossed the desert and went to meet with the sultan of Egypt, Sultan Malik al Kamil, to open up a dialogue with him. He reached out and tried to connect with someone who was supposed to be an enemy. It was the beginning of respecting other religious traditions.
“No one person or Pope can bring all the answers. You have to do it collectively. Rather than being afraid, you have to open up to true dialogue because it’s fundamental to meet people where they are at.
“St Francis didn’t want anyone to be called ‘superior’ in the order and the whole idea for us is to be servants of the servants.
“Pope Francis can’t complete his mission all by himself. He needs the people of God.”
St Francis Xavier
“As Pope Francis is a Jesuit, he could have been inspired to choose his name not only because of St Francis of Assisi, but also St Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuits. St Francis Xavier was a missionary who took the Good News of God’s love and the invitation to transform our lives, to the far corners of the world.”
…and now something about Francisco O’Conaire
“I was educated by Franciscans and found them to be good and respectful men. One of my baptismal names is Francis. I became a Franciscan because I wanted to dedicate my life to God by doing good and St. Francis always inspired me; His relationship with Jesus Christ (in the crib, on the Cross and in the Eucharist), his love for the poor, his ability to combine a contemplative prayer life with an active involvement in the world, his desire to live in harmony and respect with all humans and creation, his openness and dialogue people of other faith traditions, including Muslims, his call to live a fraternal life, which included the whole of creation and his love for the Church, despite her failings. He is a pretty good role model!”