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)

Jesuits blog, podcast and prepare for General Congregation

Logo for Jesuit meetingOver the next four days, Rome’s Jesuit population will increase by about 50 percent. The Society of Jesus’ 35th General Congregation, convoked to elect a new superior general, begins Monday morning with Mass in Rome’s Gesu Church, the site of the tomb of St. Ignatius, the Jesuit founder. The 225 delegates to the General Congregation will be joined by many of the 446 Jesuits  who live and work or study in Rome full time.

About 20 of the delegates live in Rome, working at the Jesuit headquarters, the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University or at the Vatican, like Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center. The remaining 200 are being housed in remodeled or modified rooms in Jesuit institutions all over the city.

While reporters are not allowed into the General Congregation sessions, several Jesuits are preparing to share the inside story with cybernauts: U.S. Jesuit Father Don Doll, an award-winning photographer, already is in Rome and posting photos on his site; U.S. Father Thomas Rochford, the head of communications for the Jesuits, has a blog and a relatively new podcast going; and, of course, the Jesuit press office has prepared a Web site to keep Jesuits and other readers informed.