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God’s mercy is highlighted in Pope Francis’ coat of arms


Aleteia - published on 03/19/13

His motto is 'miserando atque eligendo' which means 'by having mercy and by choosing'

The Shield

Pope Francis has decided to retain the essential features of his episcopal Coat of Arms, which he adopted when he was ordained a Bishop. The coat of arms chosen by Pope Francis is very simple.

The blue shield is surrounded by symbols of papal dignity; they are essentially the same as those chosen by his predecessor, Benedict XVI (a mitre placed between two crossed keys, one gold and the other silver, bound by a red cord). At the top of the shield stands the emblem of the Order to which the Pope belongs, the Society of Jesus: a radiant and blazing sun bearing the red letters IHS, a monogram of the name of Jesus Christ. The letter ‘H’ is surmounted by a cross, with three black nails at the cross’s tip.

The star and the spikenard flower are located at the bottom of the shield. According to ancient heraldic tradition, the star symbolizes the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, while the nard flower symbolizes St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. According to traditional Hispanic iconography, in fact, St. Joseph is depicted as holding a branch of spikenard. By incorporating these images into his shield, the Pope has wished to express his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Joseph.

The Motto

Pope Francis’s motto is taken from the Homilies of the Venerable St. Bede, priest (Hom. 21; CCL 122, 149-151), who in his commentary on the Gospel account of the calling of St. Matthew writes: Vidit ergo Iesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi: Sequere me. (“Jesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me'.")

This homily is a tribute to Divine Mercy, and it is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St. Matthew. It has a particular significance in the life and spiritual journey of Pope Francis. For it was on the Feast of St. Matthew in the year 1953 that young 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced the loving presence of God in his life, in a wholly unique way. After having made his confession, he felt the mercy of God descend upon him and touch his heart. With a gaze of tender love, God called him to the religious life, after the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

When he was ordained a Bishop, His Excellency Jorge Bergoglio chose St. Bede’s expression – Miserando atque Eligendo – as his motto and programme of life, in remembrance of the event that signaled the beginning of his total consecration to God and His Church. He has likewise wished to adopt it in his Papal Coat of Arms.

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