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Archive for May, 2013

German Parliament approves Cyprus aid package

April 18, 2013

BERLIN (AP) — The German Parliament on Thursday approved a 10 billion euros ($13 billion) rescue package for Cyprus by a wide margin.

Lawmakers voted 487-102 in favor of the bailout deal hammered out last month. Thirteen abstained. Cyprus will receive 10 billion euros in loans after its bloated banking sector threatened to destroy the economy.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, insisted on making those holding large deposits in Cyprus’ biggest banks contribute to the rescue. That position was shared by the German opposition. All the rescue agreements involving euro countries need approval from the German Parliament.

Although some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition are uneasy about bailouts, the main opposition parties so far have supported them. In separate votes Thursday, lawmakers approved by a similarly wide majority agreements to grant Ireland and Portugal seven years more years to pay their bailout loans — a move meant to ease the burden on their economies and pave the way for a quicker return to sustainable growth.

Anti-euro party a wildcard in German elections

April 14, 2013

BERLIN (AP) — The leader of a new anti-euro party called Sunday for Germany to leave the common currency, telling an inaugural convention that the euro forces German taxpayers to rescue bankrupt southern European countries whose people denounce them as Nazis for their efforts.

A crowd of about 1,500 mostly older men cheered as the leader of the Alternative for Germany party, economics professor Bernd Lucke, said the euro had done little to bring Europeans together, tapping into public anger at southern European protesters who have compared Chancellor Angela Merkel to Adolf Hitler over the demands for reforms and austerity in return for bailout funds.

“Because of the euro, people in southern Europe don’t hesitate to express their disgust toward Germany, using old Nazi comparisons,” Lucke said. “This is not what I imagine Europe to be like.” The convention adopted a platform calling for changes in the European treaty to allow each of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro to “decide democratically which currency it wants to use.”

Such sentiments are still the exception in Germany, where a sense of obligation to help fellow Europeans in distress is rooted in shame for the crimes of the Third Reich. But the new political party hopes to capitalize on simmering fears that the euro crisis could deepen and drag down Europe’s biggest economy. It aims to garner enough votes in the federal elections to reach the 5 percent minimum needed for seats in Parliament.

“The euro was a failure, and it would be bad if we continue to believe in this fairy tale,” Lucke said. “If the euro fails, Europe doesn’t fail.” The stance puts the party in sharp opposition to Merkel’s position that there can be no Europe without the preservation of the single currency, with her repeated insistence that “if the euro fails, Europe will fail.” While still a fledgling movement, the new party could hurt Merkel by sapping support from her main coalition partner — which she has relied on for a stable government.

Alternative for Germany wants to introduce Swiss-style national referendums so voters can have a say on important matters, including economic rescue packages. The party congress, at Berlin’s upscale Intercontinental Hotel, plans to adopt a program and vote for a party board on Sunday.

Many of the attendees expressed anger about what they said have been unfair money transfers from German taxpayers to help bail out countries such as Cyprus and Greece. “This party has good ideas,” said Andreas Fluegge, 49, a software specialist from Limburgerhof in the country’s southwest. “The euro is a big problem for us. Since we have had the euro I’m making less money and paying more taxes for things I don’t understand. I hope these politicians will change this.”

For all the talk about what it doesn’t like, however, the party has been short on what it does like, and its leaders were slammed in an editorial this week in the top-selling Bild newspaper as “political amateurs.”

The conservative tabloid has never shied away from accusing southern Europeans of being lazy, nor has it stopped deploring the cost Germany shoulders to bail out other nations, but turning against the euro itself remains unthinkable.

“They can craftily explain what is wrong with rescuing the euro, but they have no concept on how the future of Europe should look,” Bild wrote. Experts believe the party has little chance of garnering enough of the protest vote to reach the 5 percent threshold. But it could draw enough voters away from Merkel’s center-right coalition to force her into an alliance with the opposition or give the opposition an outright majority.

“There is space for an anti-euro party in Germany,” said Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University. “So far this position hasn’t really been represented in the German party system.”

Underlining the potential appeal, a recent poll showed that even though 69 percent of Germans now back the euro — up from about 50 percent last year — a significant minority of 27 percent said they’d like to see a return to the mark. The survey of 1,003 people was conducted April 2-3 for the business daily Handelsblatt. The poll had an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Abandoning the euro currency would have significant costs, especially for Germany as a heavily export-oriented economy. According to analysts’ estimates, it could easily knock down the country’s annual output by a double digit percentage figure.

“I think the Germans know, and to some extent accept, that they have to pay the bill for saving the euro,” said Ursula Weidenfeld, an economist and author. “They just want to make sure that they aren’t paying more than necessary.”

Other nations such as the Netherlands, Austria and Finland have also insisted on the same austerity measures that Germany has demanded in exchange for European bailouts, but as the bloc’s largest economy and the largest single contributor to the funds, most of the anger has been directed at Germany and Merkel.

Some of Merkel’s voters are now beginning to wonder whether their country — and their savings — should be tied to the struggling euro project, and Weidenfeld said support for the euro “could quickly change if a new rescue package has to be negotiated.”

Should the eurozone’s woes spread to fully engulf Italy or Spain — the bloc’s third- and fourth-largest economies — and require them to ask for a bailout, German voters could panic, said Niedermayer. In Germany’s election in September, the issue poses the greatest threat to the Free Democratic Party, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, which has a pro-business platform. Because the party has polled only slightly above five percent, even the loss of a few thousand voters could mean disaster.

“It’s not impossible that this new party could sap half a percent from the FDP and thereby kick them out of parliament,” said Niedermayer. That could create a huge headache for Merkel, who may find it hard to form a workable majority in parliament without the FDP.

Merkel’s own party, too, could suffer if conservative voters see Alternative for Germany as a credible way to express their frustration about her leadership. Economist Rudolf Hickel told Germany’s Deutsche Welle, however, that even though there is anti-euro sentiment out there, Alternative for Germany doesn’t have broad enough appeal to effectively tap it.

“They are professors and frustrated economists,” he said. “If the party were headed by a populist, I’d consider them dangerous.”

AP correspondents Kirsten Grieshaber and Kerstin Sopke contributed from Berlin.

Economic crisis sets back peace in divided Cyprus

May 21, 2013

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — When the barriers carving Cyprus in half were finally breached 10 years ago, Turkish Cypriot Fethi Akinci forged what some might consider the unlikeliest of friendships with Yiannis Maratheftis — the Greek Cypriot he almost killed in battle with a gunshot to the head.

The shooting took place on a July morning in 1974, as invading Turkish forces pushed forward in the wake a failed coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. The friendship took root once the two men, now in their 60s, met in 2009, an encounter made possible by the checkpoint openings. Akinci had discovered from a book about Maratheftis that the soldier he’d shot was alive — and sought out his onetime enemy.

The story of Maratheftis and Akinci was one of the many signs of reconciliation that emerged after the barriers were opened, allowing crossings after three decades of complete separation. The number of crossings has now reached into the millions. But these flickers of hope for reunification are at risk of being snuffed out as the island confronts what could be its worst economic crisis, making prospects for reconciliation appear dimmer than ever.

With its once-robust banking sector decimated and unemployment soaring amid harsh EU-imposed austerity, Greek Cypriots seem to have little appetite for any radical and potentially expensive change that would add to their overwhelming sense of uncertainty about their future. The island joined the European Union in 2004, but membership benefits only extend to residents in the south. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, have had a close-up look at the financial chaos that EU membership can bring, and may be in no hurry to join the club.

“It worsened the prospect for settlement,” says Hubert Faustmann, political science professor at the University of Nicosia. “A solution is costly, and there is less money now or hardly any money if any money left to finance that.”

There was no 10th anniversary commemoration the week of the anniversary. That early euphoria amid scenes of a crush people eager to cross over and see homes and properties that belonged to families for generations — then left hastily left behind — is now a faded memory.

Turkish Cypriots were first to rebel in the early 2000s against their isolation, angry at seeing their future drying up amid a collapsing economy. That compelled Turkish Cypriot authorities to loosen restrictions on crossings and to open checkpoints, putting an end to the Turkish Cypriots’ nearly complete isolation on a sliver of territory recognized by no other country than Turkey.

“The opening of the gates, had opened a big door for … the Turkish Cypriots because we were in a sort of enclave” said Turkish Cypriot Hassan Cirakli, sitting with his former Greek Cypriot schoolmate and close friend, Andreas Paralikis, in the shadow of a 12th-century cathedral converted into a mosque in the northern part of Nicosia. “We didn’t have any relations with the outside world.”

But the lack of a deal after so many failed attempts has sapped all optimism that reunification is possible, says Ahmet Sozen, chair of the political science department at Eastern Mediterranean University in the north.

Sozen said without real political progress, all the crossing points appeared to do was to bestow a kind of strange “normality” to the status quo. “Unfortunately the crossing openings failed to make a huge positive difference as to how people on both sides of the divided perceive each other,” says Sozen. “People in their subconscious have been reconciled with the idea that this is perhaps the best arrangement.”

That pessimism doesn’t faze Maratheftis or Akinci. “Now we’re fighting for peace in the same trench,” said Akinci. Maratheftis still has the bullet fragments embedded in his skull but bears no grudges. These days, the two men recount their story to schoolchildren on both sides of the divide, part of a personal quest to erase the mistrust that the barriers sustained.

Francis without Roman numeral

March 13, 2013

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican says the new pope’s official name is Pope Francis, without a Roman numeral.

Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi sought to clear up any possible confusion, noting that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who announced the name to the world, said simply Francis. It is listed that way in the first Vatican bulletin on the new pope.

“It will become Francis I after we have a Francis II,” Lombardi quipped.

Catholics, world leaders welcome church’s new pope

March 13, 2013

LONDON (AP) — World leaders sent in their congratulations and Catholics around the world were celebrating Wednesday after the Vatican announced the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy — making him the first pontiff from the Americas.

As bells tolled and crowds cheered across Latin America, President Barack Obama offered warm wishes to Pope Francis and said the selection speaks to the strength and vitality of the New World. “I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis,” Obama said. “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years.”

In Europe, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also issued statements of congratulations. Wednesday was “a momentous day for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world,” Cameron said in a message posted to Twitter, while Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, said millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike would be looking to the new pope for guidance not just in questions of faith but in matters of peace, justice and protecting creation.

Merkel said she was particularly happy for Christians in Latin America, who now had one of their own called to be pope for the first time. Francis was elected after German-born Pope Benedict XVI stepped down last month, saying he lacked the strength to continue in the job.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he looked forward to cooperation with the Holy See under Pope Francis’ “wise leadership,” while European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso wished the new Catholic leader “a long and blessed pontificate.”

The atmosphere across Latin America brimmed with excitement and surprise, with people bursting into tears and cheers on streets from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela. “It’s incredible!” said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion in the Argentine capital. She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, “He is a man who transmits great serenity.”

At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar. “It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order.

Arcilia Litchfield, a 57-year-old tourist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was walking down the cobblestone streets when they glanced at a TV and saw that a new pope had been chosen. She and her husband then went to the San Juan Cathedral, where the remains of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon are buried.

“It’s historic. It’s the first time a pope has been chosen from this part of the world,” she said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.” Even in Communist Cuba, there was pride as church bells rang to celebrate the news. Elsewhere on the continent, people traded stories about the new pontiff.

“You would see him taking public buses,” said Maurizzio Pavia, an Argentine now working in Puerto Rico, who said he was familiar with Bergoglio because they both came from the same region. “He would cook his own food. He would not let anyone serve him.”

In the United States, the archbishop of Philadelphia said the new pope is a man of “extraordinary intellectual and cultural strengths.” Archbishop Charles Chaput calls Francis a “wonderful choice” who comes from the “new heartland of the global church.”

Despite the overwhelming outpouring of joy and goodwill, not everyone thought the news was positive. Andrew Reding of the World Policy Institute in New York said the choice of Bergoglio was an example of “superficial change.”

“Once again, a conclave has made a bold geographical move while choosing a doctrinal conservative,” he said. “To paraphrase an old saying, the more things change in the Roman Catholic Church, the more they stay the same.”

On Twitter, the pope’s mothballed account was revived and read: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” a reference to the cardinal’s new name: Pope Francis.

Associated Press writers from across the globe contributed to this report.

Pope Francis: Simple image, complex past

March 14, 2013

VATICAN CITY (AP) — On the streets in Buenos Aires, the stories about the cardinal who would become the first pope from the Americas often include a very ordinary backdrop: The city bus during rush hour.

Tales are traded about chatting with Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as he squeezed in with others for the commute to work. They sometimes talk about church affairs. Other times it could be about what he planned to cook for dinner in the simple downtown apartment he chose over an opulent church estate.

Or perhaps it was a mention of his affection for the tango, which he said he loved as a youth despite having one lung removed following an infection. On the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica just after a rain shower Wednesday, wearing unadorned white robes, the new Pope Francis also appeared to strike the same tone of simplicity and pastoral humility for a church desperate to move past the tarnished era of abuse scandals and internal Vatican upheavals.

While the new pontiff is not without some political baggage, including questions over his role during a military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, the selection of the 76-year-old Bergoglio reflected a series of history-making decisions by fellow cardinals who seemed determined to offer a suggestion of renewal to a church under pressures on many fronts.

“He is a real voice for the voiceless and vulnerable,” said Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, a pro-church group. “That is the message.” Pope Francis, the first from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order, bowed to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square and asked for their blessing in a hint of the humble style he cultivated while trying to modernize Argentina’s conservative Roman Catholic Church and move past a messy legacy of alleged complicity during the rule of the military junta of 1976-83.

“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s Roman Catholics. Groups of supporters waved the white-and-blue Argentine flags in St. Peter’s Square as Francis made his first public appearance as pope. Bergoglio reportedly had envoys urge Argentines not to fly to Rome to celebrate his papacy, but instead donate money to the poor.

In taking the name Francis, he drew connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the simple spirit of the church and devote his life to missionary journeys. It also evokes references to Francis Xavier, one of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order that is known for its scholarship and outreach.

Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, came close to becoming pope during the last conclave in 2005. He reportedly gained the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running before selection of Vatican insider Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

By returning to Bergoglio, the conclave confounded speculation that it would turn to a younger candidate more attuned to younger elements in the church and with possibly more stamina for the rigors of the modern papacy with nearly nonstop obligations and frequent global travel. Francis appears in good health, but his age and possible limitations from his single lung raise questions about whether he can face the demands of the position.

Unlike many of the other papal contenders, Bergoglio never held a top post inside the Vatican administration, or curia. This outsider status could pose obstacles in attempts to reform the Vatican, which has been hit with embarrassing disclosures from leaked documents alleging financial cover-ups and internal feuds.

But the conclave appeared more swayed by Bergoglio’s reputation for compassion on issues such as poverty and the effects of globalization, and his fealty to traditional church teachings such as opposition to birth control.

His overriding image, though, is built around his leaning toward austerity. The motto chosen for his archdiocese is “Miserando Atque Eligendo,” or “Lowly but Chosen.” Even after he became Argentina’s top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid weekends when the building turned off the heat. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentina’s priests last year.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Bergoglio’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio’s legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina’s dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church’s traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Fernandez couldn’t stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

His church also had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children. Fernandez compared his tone to “medieval times and the Inquisition.”

Yet Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women. “These are today’s hypocrites; those who clericalize the church,” he told his priests. “Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style has been the antithesis of Vatican splendor. “It’s a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,” said the biographer Rubin.

His preference to remain in the wings, however, has been challenged by rights activists seeking answers about church actions during the dictatorship after the 1976 coup, often known as Argentina’s “Dirty War.”

Many Argentines remain angry over the church’s acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate “subversive elements” in society. It’s one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but less than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church’s failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era’s violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas. He doesn’t forget that side,” said the biographer Rubin.

The statements came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church’s image than about aiding the many human rights investigations into the junta era. Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court. When he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio, who ran Argentina’s Jesuit order during the dictatorship. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology, which is the belief that Jesus Christ’s teachings justify fights against social injustices.

Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them, including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their “love for country” despite the terror in the streets.

But rights attorney Bregman said Bergoglio’s own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. “The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support,” she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was five months’ pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: The woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family “too important” for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn’t know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over. “Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn’t know anything about it until 1985,” said the baby’s aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother, Alicia, co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies.

“He doesn’t face this reality and it doesn’t bother him,” the aunt said. “The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can’t keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is.”

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Argentina’s government. Relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual “Te Deum” address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what’s wrong with society.

“Is Bergoglio a progressive, a liberation theologist even? No. He’s no Third World priest,” said Rubin. “Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes.”

Associated Press writer Brian Murphy reported this story at Vatican City and Michael Warren reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Papal names are rich with meaning

March 12, 2013

VATICAN CITY (AP) — What’s in a name? A lot if you are the next pope.

Every time a new pontiff is chosen in a conclave, a senior cardinal goes up to him and asks: “And by what name do want to be called?” The question is popped immediately, while all electors are still locked in the Sistine Chapel. So the winner had better have done his homework and already picked a name.

Shortly after, the senior cardinal reads out the pontifical name in Latin from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as part of the “Habemus Papam” — “We have a pope” — formula that proclaims the election of a new pope.

“The name the new pope chooses tells a lot about the thrust of his papacy,” said Ambrogio Piazzoni, a church historian and vice-prefect of the Vatican library. Benedict XVI, the German Joseph Ratzinger who stunned the world last month by announcing his retirement, told pilgrims at his first public audience in 2005 that he had chosen the name in order to be guided by the early 20th-century Pope Benedict XV.

“In his footsteps I place my ministry, in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples,” said Benedict. The earlier Benedict, pope from 1914-22, led the church through the turbulent years of World War I and devoted much of his papacy to healing the rifts the war had created in Europe.

Ratzinger, who focused on Europe’s Christian heritage throughout his papacy, said he also drew inspiration from the 6th-century St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism and considered responsible for helping to spread Christianity throughout Europe. One of Benedict XVI’s main priorities was trying to revive the faith in Europe.

Other popes in recent times have also looked to previous popes for inspiration. In 1978, John Paul II kept the name of his immediate predecessor, John Paul I, out of deference to the earlier pope’s short-lived papacy. John Paul I — who took the first double name in history — was found dead in his bed in the papal apartments, after only 33 days as pontiff.

The Polish John Paul II, born with the name Karol Wojtyla, had also reportedly considered Stanislaw, out of respect for the patron saint of his native Poland. Until the first millennium, popes were called by their first names, except for the 6th-century Roman Mercurious, who having been named by his parents after a pagan god, decided the name would not be appropriate for a pope. He chose the name of John II.

Speaking of Johns, Giuseppe Roncalli in 1958 became John XXIII because John the Baptist was the name of the parish church in the small town of Sotto il Monte in northern Italy where he was baptized. Over the 2,000 year history of the church the most popular name is John followed by Gregory and Benedict. Pius was the most popular choice in the past century, picked by three popes. Another famous Pius was the 19th-century Pius IX, who holds the record as the longest reigning pope — almost 32 years.

So what is the new pope’s choice likely to be? “It all depends on what message he wants to give out from the very first day,” Piazzoni said.

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