The world welcomed Pope Francis as the new leader of the Catholic Church last week. Wonder why he didn't just go by his given name and become Pope Jorge Mario?
Well, the Catholic church does not force the pope to take on a new name with the new role; it's a choice by the pope himself. Several hundred years ago, Pope Marcellus II actually kept his name. The pope chooses a new name as a way of symbolizing his mission as pope. Popes in the past have picked saints names or former popes' names whose priorities and desires are similar to theirs.
Before the 6th Century, popes were known by their given names. The first pope to change his name was Pope John II, originally named Mercurius, in 533 AD. He decided to have his name be associated with his predecessor Pope John I, as opposed to the pagan god Mercury. As leader of the Catholic Church, who could blame him? :)
It's thought that Pope Francis picked his name to be linked to Saint Francis of Assisi, a kind and beloved saint, who was known for renouncing the riches of this world to live in poverty. In Argentina, Pope Francis is said to have lived a humble and simple lifestyle full of compassion for the poor, and that is how he will likely live out his papacy. He wants to be a pope who is close to the people.
Some suggest that he also wanted to evoke the memory of Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, since Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope.
The now-retired Pope Benedict XVI chose that name to link himself with Pope Benedict XV, who led the church with a steady hand through World War I. As it turned out, Pope Benedict XVI was also like his namesake in that they both reigned for about 8 years.
Once Father Jorge & Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis!
[sources: latimes, wikipedia, npr]