These were the famous words heard around the world last month. On March 13, the Roman Catholic Church received a new shepherd, a new head pastor of believers throughout the world. The 265th successor of the apostle Saint Peter continued the ministry given to Peter by Christ, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19). This gift was one of shepherding, to open the gate for the sheep to enter the fold.
Like many individuals in Scripture who receive a new name when called to a new ministry in life, such as Simon being named Peter, so, too, does the Pope take on a new name. Pope Francis chose his name after the Patron Saint of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was a saint born in the 12th century. He received in prayer a vision from Christ on the cross. In the vision Christ told him, “Rebuild my Church”. St. Francis was the major influence in the reform of the Church of his time. He did so through a life of poverty, service and prayer. St. Francis was also given the grace of the stigmata in which one physically receives the wounds of Christ in their body. This a powerful name for the new Pope to have chosen, the first in history to have chosen it as well.
And so, Pope Francis is called now to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to all the world in what he says and does. I sense that he takes this mission with the famous words of St. Francis in mind, “preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words”. In his short few weeks for those who have been watching him, Pope Francis has modeled for us the tender, strong and compassionate heart of Christ in his actions toward others. He seems to live as Christ, who said, “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant ... the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve ...” (Matthew 20: 26-27). Hence, one of the ‘titles’ of the Pope is “the servant of the servants of God”. As Christ set the model, so too is Pope Francis doing so in a brilliant way.
He is calling us to mission, just as Christ called the disciples to mission. The Pope is calling us to go forth and proclaim the Gospel in the streets and to the corners of the world. The message that Jesus Christ has died for us and risen from the dead to redeem us! Accept his sacrifice, live in His resurrection! Here are some words from this great pastor of Jesus Christ, Pope Francis:
“Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10)....Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness....and that is where death is....Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do” (Easter Vigil Homily, Saturday, March 30, 2013. www.news.va/en/news/easter-vigil).