VATICAN CITY – A word of warning to those who write personal notes to Pope Francis: He might just call you back.
Francis has charmed the masses with his informal style, simplicity and sense of humor — and a handful of strangers have gotten the treatment up close, receiving papal phone calls out of the blue after writing him or suffering some personal tragedy.
After another random phone call from the pope this week, Italy's leading Corriere della Sera daily offered etiquette tips for the lucky recipients, proposing conversation starters and no-go areas on its front page Friday.
Topping the list: Be ready, especially if the land line rings.
The 76-year-old Francis has a fondness for making calls the old-fashioned way, using land lines and placing the calls himself, often surprising recipients by simply announcing "It's the pope."
After his election in March, Francis reportedly called his newspaper stand in Buenos Aires to cancel his daily delivery and his shoemaker to tell him not to bother with papal red leather loafers but to keep making his regular black orthotics. The receptionist at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome thought he got a crank call when Francis phoned two days after being chosen pope looking for the Jesuit superior.
Francis has since called an Italian man whose brother was killed and a Colombian woman who works in Rome to thank her for a book.
Beppe Severgnini, a noted humorist and Corriere columnist, offered other tips in his article:
— Listen first, then talk, and if the conversation permits, ask the soccer-mad Francis about the recent friendly between Italy and Argentina.
— Always ask how Benedict XVI is doing. "It'll make him happy," Severgnini noted. Francis frequently refers fondly to his 86-year-old retired predecessor who is living on the other side of the Vatican gardens.
— Avoid touchy subjects like Vatican policy or scandal.
— Don't ask for any favors.
Severgnini also said even though Francis is fond of using the informal "tu" in conversation, stick with the formal "lei" but don't overdo it with exaggerated titles like "magnificent."
The recipient of this week's call, a 19-year-old student Stefano Cabizza, was quoted by Corriere as saying that Francis had told him to refer to him with the informal "tu," noting that "Even Jesus and the apostles used the 'tu.'"
Cabizza said he received the call after leaving a letter for Francis following his Mass at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 15. He declined to say what he had written.
Finally, Severgnini advised people not to be worried about what to say.
"Just be natural," Severgnini wrote. "If he wanted to get bored, he would have called a government minister."
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