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News flash: When the pope speaks, it isn’t always about the U.S.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on September 2, 2015. Credit: L’Osservatore Romano.

ROME – Rarely does a day go by without the pope – any pope – delivering some generalized statement about the current global situation, or about moral and ethical issues in public life. When you’re pope, that just comes with the territory.

In general, most cultures on earth are mature enough to recognize that when the pope opens his mouth, he isn’t necessarily talking about them. It doesn’t naturally occur to people in India, for instance, to assume that when the pope speaks out against modern-day slavery, he’s necessarily talking about the estimated 18.4 million people working under slave-like conditions in the Asian giant.

When the pope talks about the need to protect life at every stage from conception until natural death, Canadians, who recently legalized euthanasia, don’t automatically presume he’s talking about them.

However, there are three cultures which are the exception to the rule – places where people simply can’t help thinking that everything a pope says or does must be directed at them, or at least have them in mind.

The first are the Italians, for whom history and culture have programmed to believe that no matter what a pope says, he must somehow be speaking about them. If he’s not talking about X, it’s clearly because he’s trying to stay out of local politics, not because the pope just doesn’t care about (or isn’t even aware of) whatever the latest Italian development may be.

The second group are the Americans, who have a tendency to assume that everyone is always thinking about them. Since the pope belongs to the category of “everyone,” therefore, anything he says has to be about what’s happening in the United States.

The third group is a bit of a 20th century novelty: The citizens of whichever country the current pope comes from.

Under St. John Paul II, the Polish tended to assume that since his heart was there, so were his thoughts, words and deeds. Under Benedict XVI, the Germans had an uncanny ability to assume he was addressing a local matter, even when he was speaking from Timbuktu.

Under Francis, Argentines, famous for our ego, tend to believe that anything he says must be about us. Even when he tweets to 30 million people worldwide, which isn’t that much less than the country’s total population, by God, it has to be about us!

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