Il vocabolario di Papa Francesco


Vatican Experts, Journalists Prepare Reflections on 50 Words Used by Pope Francis

Young boy’s affirmation that «the Pope is cool» leads Salesian to publish a ‘dictionary’ on Pope’s vocabulary

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The book “The Vocabulary of Pope Francis” is a little publishing miracle of the Salesian Publishing House, which brings together the reflections of 50 Vatican experts, journalists and writers on key words of Bergoglio’s Pontificate. It is a “miracle” because it has succeeded in bringing together “persons of different extraction and preparation, to offer a useful instrument during the Jubilee,” as the good Alessandro Gisotti suggested, Vatican expert of Vatican Radio and author of one of the entries of the vocabulary (“People”), during the book’s presentation yesterday afternoon at Vatican Radio’s headquarters.

The whole is the merit of Father Antonio Carriero, SDB, young enthusiastic Salesian who, “knocking on many doors,” succeeded in harmonizing and coordinating this work, which reveals new facets of a Pope who has made communication, not only verbal but also physical, one of his warhorses. From the A of “abbraccio” [embrace] to the V of “vergogna” [shame] (We didn’t do Z in time, otherwise we would have inserted ‘zanzare’, [pests]” explained amusingly the editor), the volume traces a useful map to understand better the genuine language of the Argentine Pope.

A language that shows the traces of his “Latin American spirit” and of the “pastor’s journey,” stressed by Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, during the presentation. A language that is as “a spark that recalls the divine flame,” affirmed Monsignor Enrico dal Covolo, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. A language that is “fruit of Spanish, with a portena [of Buenos Aires] inflection and a subtle but profound substratum of the Piedmontese [language] deriving from his grandmother,” explained Father Antonio Spadaro, Director of La Civilta Cattolica, among the closest persons to the Holy Father.

A language that, above all, achieves almost always an effect in people’s daily life, as demonstrated in the writings of journalists who have offered freely their own contribution, beginning from their own experiences. Aldo Maria Valli, Stefania Falasca, Gianni Valente, Nello Scavo, Gaetano Vallini, Francesco Antonio Grana, Guido Mocellin, Massimo Introvigne being among the most notable signatures present; along with them the interventions of Cardinals Parolin and Ravasi, who wrote two prefaces and Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, the post-preface.

They all scanned minutely the words of a Pontiff that since his first appearance in the Loggia of Blessings on March 13, 2013, has shown himself “a great communicator.” However, for a long time already the words of the Argentine Pope had a fundamental weight.  As Father Spadaro recalled: “In an address of 1999 the then Monsignor Bergoglio explained his concern over the process of the debasement of words. Words without weight, which are not made flesh, which are emptied of their contents.” For him, “the word was the distinction between Christ as idea and Christ as person.”

Therefore, he has always been very careful in what he says and what he writes. Even in his off-the-cuff addresses, “what he says is not born from pre-packaged ideas but from his vision of reality.” There is “a creative dimension — to speak off-the-cuff is creative speaking for him, born of an inspiration,” clarified Father Spadaro.

Which explains the use of words such as “spuzza” [stench], “misericordiare” [to have mercy], “balconear” [to watch closely], or expressions such as “scaricare le tenebre” [to dispel the darkness]: neologisms kneaded  from different languages and dialects but which reinforce a concept to the point that the listener can hardly forget it. “Francis does not express himself as a press communique,” stressed the Director of La Civilta Cattolica, the first to interview Bergoglio, “but he uses a ‘mimetic’ language of the oral, that is, of one who is accustomed to be in contact with the people.”

As opposed to John Paul II, whose communication “was the fruit of study of the word in poetry and in the theater,» for whom the “gesture blossomed from the word,” in Francis “it is the word that emits the gesture.» A gesture of impact that “helps journalists to write the headline.” In fact, the Pope is “always within the communicative event; he is not the actor of a part or of a written address,” stressed the Jesuit. His objective is always one: the “liberation of the evangelical Logos,” “the proclamation of the Gospel.”

Monsignor Celli, who also focused attention on other aspects of Bergoglio’s communication, agreed: “the tone of his voice, the winking of the eyes, the movements …” “The Pope’s particularity is to ‘create communication,’” remarked the Prelate, “when we listen to him at Saint Martha’s or in the General Audience or in other addresses, he creates the event,” because “he doesn’t just pronounce words.”

And his form of communication in fact renders palpable the “culture of encounter” always preached. “The Pope has the capacity to be close, to be beside” the men and women of today, with, “however, the gait of a pilgrim, never above, never in front, never behind, but beside.” And “men and women have perceived the Pope’s being close,” his “capacity to accompany without labelling.”

In his speaking, Monsignor Celli said, “Pope Francis has the great capacity to express sympathy and hospitality. One doesn’t feel judged but received,” because, also fundamental in his communication is “the attitude of the Good Samaritan: not only to be close and to accompany, but to take charge.”

Precisely this renders Bergoglio’s language unique in its kind, so much so as to be raised to object of study in the prestigious Pontifical Lateran University, said Monsignor dal Covolo. “As an active, 46-year-old Salesian in the field of education, I see in Francis’ communication two things learned from his teaching of children: never to begin to explain something when oneself hasn’t understood it well, and to be concerned to express it in a language adapted to those that are listening to one,” he noted.

The Pope makes all this evident with his “very likable way of speaking,” of one “who has internalized in depth” what he says and wants others to understand. Therefore, explained the Rector, the Pope’s vocabulary has become a matter of study in the Athenaeum. For instance, in the Redemptor Hominis Institute, which is concerned with the formation of priests, a course was introduced in Homeletics “in which the central part is occupied by the insertion of Evangelii Gaudium, dedicated to his preaching, in which the Pope brings to fruition his direct experiences.” “When I hear the Pope speak it seems that he speaks with the maternal insides of our God,” added Monsignor dal Covolo.

Therefore, he pleases everyone, also young people. In fact they inspired Father Carriero to undertake the volume. ”I didn’t wake up in the morning and say let’s do a vocabulary on Pope Francis’ language. This book is born of the great love I have for the Pope. A love born thanks to my grandmother, who when I was small obliged me to see the live of the Angelus, and nourished by the loyalty, which Don Bosco asked of his followers, to the Successor of Peter, exclaiming: ‘Long live the Pope, whoever he may be!’”

The definitive push, however, “was to see a boy of the school where I teach with a photo of the Pope on his mobile saying OK.” “I asked him why he had it and he answered me: ‘Because Francis is cool.” “Young people like the Pope and one can see this also on the social networks where h
e creates events, an environment through his gestures and sayings like ‘God spray,’ ‘Church: field hospital’ and so on, “ stressed the Salesian.

“We went some way to build the vocabulary, but we wanted to come out in the proximity of the Jubilee so that Christians, and not only they, could match themselves against these 50 words of the Pope.” Why? “Because we want it to help everyone to enrich their interior vocabulary: that of one who believes, for whom it will be a ‘review,’ but also for one that for some reason has estranged himself from the Church, for whom we hope it will be an occasion to approach her again,” concluded Father Carriero.

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Salvatore Cernuzio

Crotone, Italy Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences, Information and Marketing (2008) and Master's degree in Publishing and Journalism (2010) from LUMSA University of Rome. Vatican Radio. Rome Seven. "Ecclesia in Urbe. Social Communications Office of the Vicariate of Rome. Second place in the Youth category of the second edition of the Giuseppe De Carli Prize for religious information.

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