For the Catholic Church that is going through one of its most difficult periods, the name chosen by its new head holds a lot of significance. St Francis of Assisi, the twelfth-century saint whose name the new Pope has adopted, was once a war-seeking knight who was called to a life of religious service.
While praying outside a dilapidated chapel, St Francis is reported to have had the vision of God asking him to repair his ‘house’.
In Mumbai, many Catholics expected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took over as the 266th Pope, to repair the ‘house’ too, not a physical edifice but a 1.2 billion-strong church facing a crisis. Fr Anthony Charanghat, spokesperson for the archdiocese of Bombay, represented this sentiment when he said in his statement, “St Francis is reputed to be a friar who sought a reformation and a rebuilding of the Church, seeking to act in the world rather than withdraw from it. Perhaps he visualises his role as rebuilding the Church of God plagued with moral scandals, corruption and defections to evangelical sects.”
Pope Francis I is also the first Jesuit to head the church. The Jesuit order, founded in the sixteenth century, is one of the largest in the church and arrived in India with St Francis Xavier in A D 1542. In Mumbai, they run institutions like St Stanislaus High School, Bandra, St Mary’s High School, Mazgaon and St Xavier’s College. The order eschews titles and power, and is avowedly sworn to poverty and work amongst the poor.
That is the reason why Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier’s College, found it surprising that a Jesuit was chosen as the new Pope. “We were not only shocked but surprised. Normally, a Jesuit is not expected to play such a role. While we have always played an important role in the international church, we prefer to work under the Roman Pontiff. It is not normal to be asked to take up a job like this.”
Father Joel Mascarenhas, of St Xavier’s Technical Institute, Mahim, which is also run by Jesuits, said he was surprised. “When the church is looking for reform, we have got a man who will take it there. The church needs to be relevant in these times,” he said.
“Pope Francis is a man of the poor; he had a small apartment, cooked his own meals and used public transport. That was what St Francis was noted for,” said Father Frazer.