When I first heard that the new Pope had taken the name Francis, like many I thought of Francis of Assisi St. Francis long has had an appeal beyond Roman Catholicism. His gentle spirit has proven attractive to many. It was seen as a profound choice for a Jesuit to make as well. But, perhaps the new Pope had more than one Francis in mind.
As I read reports this evening I was reminded that as a Jesuit, perhaps he had St. Francis Xavier in mind. My failure to remember Francis Xavier will disappoint my college history of missions teacher, but I shall try to make up the difference.
Francis Xavier was an early Jesuit leader and missionary. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the order founded by Ignatius Loyola in part as a response to the Protestant Reformation. Francis Xavier was sent by the newly founded order with companions to Goa, then the Portuguese colony on the coast of India. Francis would serve as a missionary in India, Ceylon, Japan, and died off the coast of China. Whatever our thoughts about missionaries and colonialism, the choice of Francis Xavier as a spiritual patron (if this was part of the new Pope's thinking) could suggest that he wishes to call the church to a missional sensibility. We know that he is a man of austerity and simplicity, who has a concern for the poor -- that is deeply rooted in Catholic Social teaching and doesn't make him a progressive, but his vantage point from the Southern Hemisphere suggests that his vision isn't limited to that of a European perspective.
I know he's not a liberal. I disagree with his views on homosexuality, contraception, and probably the role of women in the church, but I'm also a person who believes that the Spirit can work with those who are open to that leading. Papal names have meaning. These two St. Francis' could give us a sense of his vision, and that vision may be broader than we might expect.