Human Face

‘Pope Kiko’ and the grace of office

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“Pope Kiko.” The common Filipino nickname and endearment for those named Francisco and its other versions was in my thoughts the moment the Vatican’s cardinal deacon intoned, “Habemus Papam Franciscum.”

The new Pope from Argentina we call Francis in English will be signing his papal name in Latin as Franciscus PP—that is, unless he wants to break with tradition. (The um in Franciscum as used in the announcement is just a Latin suffix, “the standard ending of neuter nouns and adjectives of the second declension,” says an ask-anything Internet site.)

There are a number of guesses as to what PP really means—pontifex primus, pastor pastorum, etc., nasty ones among them. The Vatican website does not give the meaning of PP (an invitation for punsters to guess) but it officially lists Pope Francis in Latin as Franciscus.

But what’s in a name? Immediately after the new Pope’s choice of name was announced, St. Francis of Assisi (Francesco d’Assisi, patron of Italy and lover of God’s creatures) was in most everyone’s mind. For the huge crowd that had waited for the white smoke that was to signal the good news, the seagull seen near the Sistine Chapel chimney was a confirmation of the Pope’s choice of name. That is, even before Pope Francis (who is not a Franciscan but a Jesuit) had explained why he picked the poverello of Assisi, not Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary to Asia, or Francis de Sales, a doctor of the Church.

It was during his audience days later with thousands of journalists that Pope Francis explained his choice of the rich man who left everything in order to live poor and serve the poor. St. Francis (1181-1226) was not a priest, but the Franciscan Order that he founded, and the hundreds of congregations of brothers, sisters and priests that have sprung worldwide over the centuries, are proof of his great charisma.

This first Pope from the Americas, nee Jorge Mario Bergoglio, added that by choosing to be named after the patron saint of Italy, he was also honoring his Italian roots. He could have named himself Clement XV, he joked, after Clement XIV, the Jesuits’ nemesis. A Franciscan nun texted, with a “hahaha” added, to say that Clement XIV, the suppressor of the Jesuits, was a Franciscan.

Expect a surge in the number of baby boys and girls with names derived from Francis—Francisco/a, Frank, Francesco/a, Frances, Francois, Francoise, Francia—in many languages.  The Francises and Franciscos in our government better keep their names unsullied. In the Philippines there are many nicknames for Francisco and Francisca: Kiko, Kikoy, Paco, Pacquing, Paquito, Kikay, Isko/a, Frank, Frankie, Franz, Chiz, Chesca.

Every word uttered by Pope Francis, every small gesture, his body language and the lilt in his voice are now being interpreted to mean a world of things as if there were no more of them tomorrow and the years ahead. His hopping on the bus to the hotel after being elected to Peter’s Chair, paying his bills at the checkout counter, blessing a blind journalist’s guide dog (so very St. Francis), not wearing the papal red shoes (“Que horror,” he must have muttered)—all these have not escaped notice. (He wore brown shoes at his installation.)

Amused, I thought to myself: Of course he had to rush back to his hotel room to gather his personal effects, maybe including his sinampay (hanging laundry), before a papal butler got there. You can’t expect a 76-year-old Buenos Aires archbishop used to taking public transport and sometimes cooking his own meals to change his ways in a flash.

Pope Francis’ official papal coat of arms has been released, and it includes the traditional Jesuit seal—the IHS with a sunburst around it. The IHS is the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. Over the IHS is a cross and below it are three nails.  The words “Miserando atque eligendo” suggest having been mercifully chosen—in spite of. This has reference to Jesus’ choice of Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his apostles.

Pope Francis has chosen a simple fisherman’s ring—gold-plated silver, not solid gold. A small one, por favor, he must have stressed. I’ve always wondered why bishops like to wear chunky, clunky rings, some with big stones pa.

I, along with countless Christian Catholics, rejoice in this inspired choice of leader “from the end of the earth.” May I add that I, while watching all the mesmerizing liturgical pageantry during the papal installation, could not help but squint at the huge sea of Church leaders wearing radiant finery—and there’s not a woman in sight. It just takes the awe away.

This new Pope cannot shake off the essence of his person as well as his public past and image. He will just have to sail forward and navigate the rough waters like the true Fisherman One that he is called to be. And he—and we—can pray for the grace that will sustain him.

In spiritual parlance it is called “the grace of office.”

It is said that when God invites or calls a person to undertake a task, God also provides that person the grace to carry out the task or calling.  “The grace of office” is often used in the context of a religious vocation, especially for those in leadership positions—their imperfections, weaknesses and reluctance notwithstanding.

Biblical times and contemporary history have had ordinary persons rise to enormous tasks, strengthened only by their belief in God’s calling and their faith in the grace that would help them carry out their destiny. There were those who rose and fell, there were those who fulfilled their mission with humility and obedience. Would that political leaders were conscious of this.

God bless Pope Kiko. Don’t cry for him, Argentina.

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