RNS / Paul Haring / Catholic News Service

Pastor Francis

Last spring, while the world waited for the successor to Pope Benedict XVI to be announced, a researcher for National Public Radio called me to ask why popes change their name when assuming the papacy. I explained that the custom started in the sixth century when the chosen candidate bore the unfortunate name of Mercury. Since the bishop of Rome could hardly bear the name of a pagan god, the new pope took the name John.

In the course of our chat, I said in passing that it was odd that no pope ever took the name Francis. Perhaps new popes worry that they cannot live up to the model of Il Poverello.


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