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Papal jesting sparks Italian political fight

Pope John Paul II's playful banter in the local Roman dialect Romanesco last Wednesday built new bonds of affection with the Romans, but alienated Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi, whose political base is in northern Italy.

The irascible Bossi (pictured), an ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, demanded the Catholic Church no longer be entitled to a share of national income tax, which the state divides up among religious organisations every year.

Affluent and largely industrial northern Italy "doesn't just maintain robber Rome, but also monsignors, cardinals and various rackets," Bossi said. "Let them go barefoot."

"Bossi has crossed the limit of decency," Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini said in reaction.

One Cabinet Minister, Rocco Buttiglione, who has close ties to the Vatican, worried that Bossi was making Italy look bad abroad. "We're on the pope's side," said the minister, whose former Christian Democrat party is another coalition partner.

The pope's jokes were prompted by good-natured chiding by a Roman parish priest that while the polyglot pontiff greets pilgrims from around the world in their native languages, Romans don't hear the pope, who as pontiff is also bishop of Rome, speak Roman dialect.

John Paul, in rapid-fire, rattled off a string of Romanesco, including expressions for "Let's get down to business," ("damose da fa") and "We're Romans," ("semo Romani"). Then, in a retort to the parish priest, he quipped: "I didn't learn Romanesco? Does that mean I'm not a good bishop of Rome?"

The Pope's banter was played repeatedly on Italian television, igniting regional rivalry.

Papal Jesting Sparks Latest Italian Fight (The Guardian/Associated Press 1/3/04)

Pope's Linguistic Repertoire Still Growing (Zenit 26/2/04)
Governo Italiano
Dizionario Romanesco
Holy Father resumes tradition of visiting Roman parishes (Vatican Information Service 28/2/04)

2 Mar 2004