Will Pope Francis live up to his name?

Full disclosure: I am not Catholic.

But I do have a lot of Catholic friends. Really. I’ll invite some over for my next cookout; you’ll see.

But you needn’t have nicked your shin on a kneeler more times than you can count to be interested in what’s been going on in Rome for the last month.

On Wednesday, the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics of the world got themselves a new Papa. Pope Benedict XVI took the rare step of retiring last month rather than dealing with that money-laundering mess in the Vatican and the sex scandals and sex crimes on several continents.

Plus, the papal apartment is due to get new plumbing and electric – such disruptive renovations – so who could blame him for turning in his keys and name badge and taking refuge in Castel Gandolfo.

Anyway, the College of Cardinals (which, I’ve learned, is NOT an institution of higher learning for a species of bird found in North America) elected the archbishop of Argentina as pope. Until yesterday, he had one of those long South American names that are hard to remember and harder to pronounce, but now we all just call him Francis. Or Pope Francis I, for you sticklers.

Francis is the first pope from Argentina, which is making a lot of people happy. But what got my ears to perk up was his choice of name. He invoked my favorite saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

Pretty much everybody knows St. Francis shed his family’s wealth to live and preach as a poor man. And of course he communed with and was a protector of animals. Statues of him usually show animals at his feet and a dove or other bird resting on one hand.

My favorite woman tells me that when she visited his birthplace and approached a similar, life-size statue, the dove perched still as stone on his hand lifted up abruptly and flew off. Turns out real birds find even the carved St. Francis a hospitable haven.

So, I have high hopes that this traditional, orthodox, elderly man will not only walk with the poor and get the high-living church hierarchy in line, but that he will focus attention on the well-being of animals everywhere.

It’s a longshot, as I’m pretty sure the church doesn’t even think us speechless beings have souls, never mind a place on the Vatican’s global agenda. But I’m still hopeful.

At any rate, I’m counting on him not eating veal.

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