The new Pope has revealed how he chose the name Francis as his official title, saying his choice was inspired by St Francis of Assisi and reflected his desire for the Catholic Church to be an institution “of the poor, for the poor.”
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.
The Pope, speaking at an audience in the Vatican for the thousands of journalists from around the world who covered his election, described how it dawned on him that support for his candidacy was reaching “dangerous” levels.
As the cardinals cast their fifth and final vote, it became increasingly clear that he would be asked to become the 265th successor to St Peter.
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.
“When things became a bit dangerous, he comforted me, and when the vote for me reached the two-thirds majority, a moment in which the cardinals started applauding because they had chosen a Pope, he hugged me, he kissed me and he said 'don’t forget the poor’.
“That word, the poor, lodged in me here,” Francis said, tapping his head.
“It was then that I thought of St Francis. And then I thought of wars and about peace and that’s how the name came to me – a man of peace, a poor man ... and how I would like a church of the poor, for the poor.”
The address was a fresh indication of Francis’s determination to make the Church more austere and relevant to real-life problems such as poverty and suffering, and confirmed his distaste for the more indulgent trappings of his office.
He has stunned Vatican officials in his first few days as Pope, declining the papal limousine in favour of minibuses, addressing cardinals as his “brothers” rather than “my lord cardinals” and paying his own bill at the clerical residence he stayed in before the conclave.
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.
He was given a rapturous reception, with many journalists from Italy and other Catholic countries chanting “Viva il Papa” and “Fran-ces-co”.
His remarks were greeted with laughter, applause, a standing ovation and murmurs of “bellisimo” from Italian journalists.
Dressed in his white papal vestments, he spoke from a chair on a broad stage, flanked by two Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniforms.
He thanked media professionals for their hard work in broadcasting the conclave and his election to the world, and blessed them and their families. “You worked hard!” he said to laughter and clapping.
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.
The Vatican revealed that Francis will have a meeting in Rome on Tuesday with Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina, with whom he is said to have a fraught relationship.
They have clashed over some of her government’s liberal initiatives, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraception.
The Pope will also pay a visit next Saturday to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo, where he has been staying since resigning on Feb 28.
He will fly be helicopter to the castle, the papal summer retreat, and will have lunch with Benedict.
The visit will come under intense scrutiny given the highly unusual circumstances of having a reigning Pope and a still living predecessor.
There has been speculation that Benedict risks becoming a sort of “shadow Pope” to Francis and a lightning rod for those in the Vatican who may be unhappy with the style and substance of the new papacy.
Benedict is expected within weeks to move into his permanent retirement home, a former nunnery in the grounds of the Vatican, meaning he will live just a stone’s throw from his successor.
Francis will be formally invested as Pope at a huge Mass in St Peter’s Square on Tuesday.
Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, will miss the inauguration because he will be on a “pilgrimage of prayer” in Chichester.
Instead he will be represented at the event by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.
The Vatican announced that the Sistine Chapel, which was closed for the conclave, will reopen to the public on Monday.