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LEVADA-ASSISI Mar-25-2013 (530 words) With photo. xxxi

U.S. Cardinal Levada travels to Assisi to pray for new pope

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy (CNS) -- When U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada walked through the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi March 23, he took a moment to gaze at the fresco of the 11th-century saint who inspired the new pope's name.

The retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told Catholic News Service that he made the journey to pray for the papal ministry of Pope Francis.

"When I was in the Sistine Chapel and the Holy Father announced that he had chosen the name Francis, I thought, 'Now I must go to Assisi as soon as I can ... so I can ask the intercession of his patron saint -- Italy's patron saint -- for his new Petrine ministry,'" Cardinal Levada said.

The cardinal, who was a member of the conclave that elected Pope Francis March 13, has visited the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi many times throughout the years. He has led pilgrimages that usually involved the Archdiocese of San Francisco -- named after the Assisi saint -- where the cardinal had served as archbishop from 1995 to 2005.

But this time, Cardinal Levada had a much different reason for making the journey.

When Pope Francis was introduced to the world from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, he asked for prayers from the tens of thousands of people packed in the square below him.

The new pope "is a man who says always at the end, 'Pray for me, pray for me,'" Cardinal Levada said. "So I want him to know that I'm taking his admonition seriously, especially at the tomb of his patron, Francis."

The cardinal said he was at first surprised that the first Jesuit pope would take a name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the religious order now commonly called the Franciscans. However, he says the name suits the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was archbishop of Buenos Aires before he was elected pope.

"It's also something original to him, I believe," Cardinal Levada said. "His desire is to serve the poor, which he has done in the past, and make that the image of a servant pope.

"I believe the spirit of St. Francis already diffused in the church and beloved of so many, will only become the stamp of his pontificate and help us all to be people who reach out in a more significant way to our brothers and sisters who are poor, marginalized, in any way that we can help them," the cardinal said.

Pope Francis has said that he chose his name because St. Francis of Assisi was so devoted to the poor, a virtue he wanted to be reminded of throughout his papacy.

Cardinal Levada also said that retired Pope Benedict XVI preached that love and fraternity are at the heart of the church and that reaching out in love to the poor is a vital element of Catholicism.

"I think we will see Pope Francis, with his love for the poor, being in strict continuity with that," the cardinal said. Pope Benedict taught the importance of charity and Pope Francis "will be putting it into action."

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Editors: A video interview with Cardinal Levada in Assisi can be seen at http://youtu.be/2s-B_wZqy_Q.


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