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Francis calls for a 'church for the poor'

The focus of Pope Francis' papacy began to emerge Saturday as he offered some intimate insights into the conclave that elected him pontiff, describing how he was immediately inspired to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi because he wants to see a church that is "for the poor."

His comments provided further evidence that this first Latin American papacy would be one that looks beyond the confines of the church itself to the most disadvantaged, named for a 13th-century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity and go out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.

"Let me tell you a story," Pope Francis began in a break from his prepared text during an audience for a few thousand journalists and Vatican communications officials in the Vatican's auditorium.

Francis then described how during the conclave he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the votes were going his way and it seemed "a bit dangerous" that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.

When the threshold was reached, applause erupted in the frescoed Sistine Chapel.

"He (Hummes) hugged me. He kissed me. He said, 'Don't forget about the poor!'" Francis recalled.

"And those words came to me: The poor. The poor. Then right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars as the votes were being counted, until the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi."

The pope said some have wondered whether his name was a reference to other Franciscan figures, including St. Frances de Sales or even the co-founder of the pope's own Jesuit order, Francis Xavier. But he said the inspiration was Francis of Assisi.

Sitting in the vast Vatican auditorium, Francis continued: "For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. These days we don't have a very good relationship with creation, do we?" he said. "He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man."

"Oh how I would like a church which is poor and for the poor!" Francis said, sighing.

In one of his first acts as pope, Francis phoned the Vatican ambassador in Buenos Aires and told him to put out the word that he didn't want ordinary Argentines flocking to Rome for his installation Mass, urging them to use the money instead for charity.

His addresses and homilies often circle back to the need for the church to rivet its attention on issues of economic failings, including the growing divides between the comfortable and needy, and the pressures of Western-style capitalism.

Amid the calls for reform of the Vatican bureaucracy that have erupted in recent months, there has been a steadily increasing suggestion in the Italian media that the Vatican could easily do away with its bank, since it can carry out most of its financial activities through commercial banks and thus rid itself of a stain on its reputation.

While there's no indication the Institute for Religious Works will close any time soon, one of Francis' most eagerly watched first appointments will be that of his secretary of state, who traditionally presides over the commission of cardinals that oversees the bank.

The Canadian Press


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