Vatican City, March 18 - With last week's election of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church appears to be setting a new course that could see a greater openness to other faiths and traditions. Some cardinals have recently said that they felt the Holy Spirit was moving through the conclave, leading to Wednesday's election of former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who quickly announced that he would take the name Francis. That name was inspired by one of the most humble but powerful figures in the history of the Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi, and seemed to be something of a harbinger of change. Some cardinals themselves seemed a bit surprised at how quickly - in just two days - Pope Francis was elected to replace Benedict XVI, who stunned the world by stepping down last month. But there seems to be widespread hope that Francis, who hails from Argentina and has shown a particular interest in making common cause with the poor and humble in society, will work to bring a new period of openness and peace led by the Catholic Church. Changes in his style were apparent only two days after his election, when Francis made a point of speaking with each member of the College of Cardinals. In comments to the group, he particularly thanked cardinals Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone and Giovanni Battista Re by name for their roles in handling church governance in the time between the popes. Francis then noted that he and many among the group "are in the third stage of our lives". "We are in our old age, but it is the time of giving," Francis said. "Old age is the seat of life's wisdom. People who are wise go a long way, like old Simeon in the temple, who met Jesus," he added. "We need to hand on this wisdom to young people. Wisdom is like good wine that matures with age. A German poet said about old age: 'Old age is a time of peace and prayer'. We need to hand on this wisdom to the young". On Saturday, Francis offered a blessing that encompassed international journalists and media in Rome to cover conclave and the settling in of the new pope. In his address, he gave the media a few insights into the conclave that elected him, and confirmed that he had decided to use the name Francis to honour St. Francis of Assisi, who dedicated his life to helping the poor and working for peace. "I thought of wars, while the voting continued, through all the votes," he explained. "And Francis was the man of peace. And that way the name came about, came into my heart: Francis of Assisi". With this unusual gesture, specifically speaking with the media and holding a Mass with those who covered the conclave, it seemed Francis was stretching out to include people of all faiths around the world and possibly even offering a hand to non-believers in a secular society. Many will be watching in the coming weeks to see if Francis continues his outreach of good will on behalf of the Catholic community to other faiths. Francis has also made an effort to reach out to praise his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who Francis has said enriched the Church with his faith, humility, and patience. The new pope's style will likely also show itself in an effort to "streamline and simplify" some of the work of the Vatican, suggested press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
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di Giovanni Pastore