Words can be loaded

Pope Benedict XVI blesses pilgrims from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 25 during his Christmas Day blessing 'urbi et orbi' (to the city of Rome and the world). (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)Who knew being a polyglot could get you in trouble even when you’re the pope? When Pope Benedict XVI gave Christmas greetings Dec. 25 to Rome and the world in 63 languages, one of those idioms turned out to be a mini-minefield.

A former government minister and now head of Greece’s small Democratic Revival party reportedly sent a critical missive to the pope for giving Christmas well-wishes in Macedonian. The Italian news agency ANSA reported yesterday it had obtained a copy of the two-and-a-half-page typed letter the Greek politician sent to the German pontiff.

Apparently the letter admonished the pope for using Macedonian which, the author asserted, is not a language but a Slavic dialect. The letter, according to ANSA, reportedly gives numerous reasons this Cyrillic-lettered lingo does not exist.

But a quick search on the Vatican Web site shows papal season’s greetings were given in Macedonian every year going back at least until 1997.

ANSA attributes the critique as just the latest sparring resulting from this Balkan nation’s use of the name Macedonia since it gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece objects to this landlocked state north of Greece taking the name Macedonia for a variety of reasons, including the fear Skopje might have territorial claims on Greek Macedonia. You can read about the complex name controversy here.

But interestingly, few noticed that right between his greetings in Esperanto and Latin, Pope Benedict added a new language to the “Merry Christmas” roster: Guarani. Never heard of this South American tongue? Of course you have: the words “tapioca,” “pirhana,” “toucan,” and “jaguar” have their roots in Guarani.

Why would the pope include Guarani in 2007? Don’t know, but there is a close link between the Guarani Indians and the Jesuits who begin their 35th General Congregation this month.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI blesses pilgrims from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 25 during his Christmas Day blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city of Rome and the world). (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

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