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What's in a name? A lot when a pope chooses it

March 15, 2013|By Paul Greenberg

Habemus Papam! We have a pope! That was the word, or rather the words, from St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday, and it wasn't just a worldwide church that had awaited the news but the world itself. And the news was good, as in the Good News. For suddenly the air in Rome and far beyond seemed filled with a hope that was almost palpable.

Habemus Papam! Even as the white smoke was still drifting, spirits were lifting. And then the name that the new pope had chosen for himself was announced: Francis. As in Francis of Assisi, saint and exemplar. A good sign and more than a sign: May it be an augury of a new simplicity, a new connection to the flock, a new leadership not by words alone, just as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has now become simply Francis.

Habemus Papam! If his church has a new pope, the old cardinal has a new name, a new identity, a new persona. What's in a name? As much as the named can make of it, as much as the name can make of him. In a way, the new pope has been born again, christened again, dedicated again, and neither he nor his church may remain the same. It's an old, old story — as old as Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Israel. Nothing was ever the same after that — for the newly named or all those he would transform in turn.

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Habemus Papam! His church may have a new pope, yet this new Bishop of Rome remains the same person, the cardinal within the pope, the Abram within Abraham, the Jacob within Israel, even as he acquires a new identity, For he remains the same person, only transformed. The way true Christians do even as they convert to their faith continually, from day to day and hour to hour and breath to breath by His grace.

Habemus Papam! This new pope and old cardinal was following in the footsteps of Francis the First, the one from Assisi, long before he adopted his new name. He didn't live in the cardinal's official residence in Buenos Aires, the church's equivalent of the state's Casa Rosada in that beautiful old Belle Epoque capital with its wide boulevards and vast vistas east to the sea and west to the Pampas.

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