Like Pope Francis, Let’s Be True to Our Names: Catholic Bishop in South Africa

Pope Francis gives the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 2, 2013. Elise Harris/CNA.

Pope Francis chose a name and followed it, assuming a life of simplicity like his prototype, the Bishop of Mthatha Diocese in South Africa has observed, and urged the people of God to be true to the meaning of their respective names in the example of the Holy Father.

In an accolade he penned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ Pontificate, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka observed that like St. Francis, the Holy Father has remained true to his name by choosing poverty and making the poor and marginalized the focus of his Papacy.

“Cardinal Bergoglio is the first to use Francis as a name that identifies him in his role as a Pope. St. Francis is known for his practice of simple life as a condition for openness to God and service to the Church. He is also known for his love of nature,” Bishop Sipuka said in his reflection.  

“Given how Pope Francis has made simplicity a mark of his life, Bergoglio is teaching us a lot about what our names, given or assumed, invite us to be,” the Bishop of Mthatha said in the Monday, April 3 newsletter, and added, “As we contemplate Bergoglio made Francis, let us think about our names and strive to be true to their meaning.” 

He noted the examples of Pope Francis being true to his name including his abandoning of residence in the traditional Papal palace, choosing a tiny Fiat car for his local transportation, making the most marginalized a focus of his attention, and his concern for environmental justice. 


In his reflection, the President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) cautioned parents against naming their children to satisfy their egos rather than giving them direction to a virtuous life.

He said that just like in Christianity, African names have a meaning that points towards “a mission and virtuous life for the child”. 

“Unfortunately, some of the emerging names for children being born today do not point to any mission. Some, like Owam and Uthi-mna, appear to be about the parents’ egos rather than pointing to a mission and virtuous life for the child,” Bishop Sipuka said.  

He highlighted the Catholic tradition of choosing a Saint’s name for Baptism and Confirmation, which, though no longer obligatory, he said, could be resumed with benefit. This, he said, is particularly true for Confirmation, where he said young people who, through this Sacrament, take ownership of their faith. 

He said that young people, after learning about the lives of Saints, could choose one and be inspired to lead a life with a mission.  

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The Church celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Pope Francis’s Pontificate on March 13, reflecting on how his leadership of the Catholic Church stands out, especially his focus on the peripheries, and how he is sometimes misunderstood.

Pope Francis has also been celebrated for championing the care of the environment in his Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, for fostering the care of migrants and refugees, and for giving a voice to women Religious.

According to Bishop Sipuka, Cardinal Bergoglio’s election as Pope is historical “because it broke a long history of 1,300 years of having Popes elected among European Cardinals.” 

“His homeland is Argentina, which like South Africa, is considered a 3rd world country, so he is ‘One of us’”, the Catholic Bishop says, and adds, “This explains his passionate solidarity with the poor, as preeminently expressed in his focused attention on the migrants and refugees.”

Pope Francis’s solidarity with the poor also manifests in two of his Encyclical Letters, Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, Bishop Sipuka notes.


In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis addresses the injustices of the rich countries resulting from unfair and destructive exploitation of creation. 

In Fratelli Tutti, the Holy Father laments the economy that disadvantages and excludes the so-called third world countries. 

Most of the countries Pope Francis visited are poor countries with social and political instability, the recent one being the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Bishop Sipuka recalls the Holy Father “explicitly criticized former colonizing countries for exploiting the resources of poorer countries.”

He notes that Pope Francis, as a global leader, addresses injustices against the poor at that level, and adds, “We must also do it in our context, beginning at a personal level where we strive to act justly and, in the workplace, in the Parish, in the area in which we live, in the province and the country, pursue justice.”

In his tribute to the 86-year-old Pontiff, Bishop Sipuka celebrates “a Pope of simplicity and accessibility”, and explains that the whole posture of Pope Francis is marked by simplicity, availability, and solidarity with ordinary people. 

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The simplicity, he says, was expressed by his first words after he was elected Pope, “pray for me”. 

The Holy Father continues in his life as Pope to be simple, breaking protocols and reaching out to people in a way in which Bishop Sipuka notes causes “a nightmare for his aids and security personnel.” 

The Bishop of Mthatha reminisces an encounter he once had with Pope Francis, saying, “At a meeting in Rome, I recall chatting with him at teatime, and when we went to the bookstall, he took out a wallet and bought a book like the rest of us but then forgot the wallet on the table. When one Bishop took it and gave it to him, he remarked, ‘He is still honest’ as if the rest of us around him were dishonest people, and we laughed.”

Pope Francis also stands out as a Pontiff of communion and Synodality, Bishop Sipuka observes, and explains, “Pope Francis will come down in history as a Pope who propagated a communal and Synodal vision of the Church.”

According to the South African Bishop, Pope Francis’ vision of Synodality is nothing new but a visitation of a vision adopted 60 years ago by the Vatican II Council. 

However, the Holy Father’s launch of the Synod on Synodality breathes new energy into the vision of Vatican II Council, Bishop Sipuka said.

“Unfortunately, things remained the same in practice as they were 60 years ago. This was confirmed recently by the answers to the local and universal synods question,” he further said.

He continued, “From these answers, it transpired that the office and function of the ordained priesthood continue to dominate while the rest of the membership is reduced to the role of listening and supporting the Church.”

“Pope Francis’ call to the communal and Synodal view of the Church seeks to reverse this situation,” Bishop Sipuka says in his reflection in the April 3 Newsletter.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.