Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, whose surprise election as Pope on Wednesday stunned the world, said the name came to him as he realised that voting was going his way during the conclave – the secretive election in which 115 cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel to choose a successor to Benedict XVI.
He was comforted by an old friend, a 78-year-old Brazilian cardinal who was sitting next to him in the frescoed 15th century chapel.
“I had next to me the archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo, Claudio Hummes, a great friend of mine,” he told the journalists, who packed into the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the encounter.
Pope Francis called for “a poor Church for the poor” in an address to journalists from around the world on Saturday, as part of a charm offensive characterised by an informal style in contrast with the Vatican’s monumental halls of power.
The newly-elected pope smiled and joked with 3,000 journalists and Vatican communications officials at an audience, as well as imparting a blessing for any atheists present.
He revealed that cardinals had suggested that he take a different name as Pope — possibly calling himself Adrian, after a great reforming Pope, or Clement XV, “to take revenge” on Clement XIV, an 18th century pontiff who tried to suppress the Order of Jesuits.
Francis himself is a Jesuit and his election made him the first Jesuit Pope in the history of the Church.
In a meeting with journalists, the Pontiff said he was inspired to choose the name Francis after the 12th Century saint Francis of Assisi, who represented “poverty and peace”.
“The man who loved and cared for creation – and in this moment we don’t have such a great relationship with creation. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man.
“Oh how I would like a poor church and a church for the poor,” Francis said, sighing.
St Francis of Assisi is said to have loved animals as his “brothers and sisters” and even to have preached to birds.
He thanked the thousands of journalists who had covered his election but invited them to “always try to better understand the true nature of the Church, and even its journey in the world, with its virtues and with its sins”.
The pope shook hands, held them, embraced people and was warm.
The special audience with journalists in a Vatican auditorium was billed as another sign of the greater openness in Bergoglio’s first days as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
His informal, modest style has contrasted sharply with the more tradition-bound papacy of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who is living out the first few weeks of his retirement in a castle overlooking a volcanic lake in the hills south of Rome.
In other parts of his address to journalists, which was delivered in accented Italian, Francis said that Catholics should remember that Jesus is the centre of the Church, not the Pope, writes the Telegraph.
“I told you I would willingly give you a blessing. Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God. May God bless all of you,” he said
The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by multiple scandals including thousands of cases of abuse of children by paedophile priests.
Catholics have also been abandoning churches in huge numbers in an increasingly secularised West — in contrast to Latin America, where some 40 percent of the world’s Catholics now live.
A moderate conservative in Argentina where he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis – the son of an Italian emigrant railway worker – is unlikely to change any of the fundamental tenets of Catholic doctrine but experts say he could push for more social justice and a friendlier faith, reports AFP.