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Tips of the day: What to do if you get a call from the pope

Pope Francis
Alberto Pizzoli | AFP | Getty Images
Pope Francis

A word of warning to those who write a personal note 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 newspaper offered etiquette tips for lucky recipients, proposing conversation starters and no-go areas on its front page Friday.

Topping the list: Be ready, especially if the landline rings.

The 76-year-old Francis has a fondness for making calls the old-fashioned way, using landlines and placing the calls himself, often surprising recipients by simply announcing "It's the pope."

(Read more: Popes John Paul II, John XXIII named saints)

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 prank call when Francis phoned two days after being chosen pope looking for the Jesuit superior.

The pontiff 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 exhibition game between Italy and Argentina.

—Always ask how Benedict XVI is doing. "It'll make him happy," Severgnini said. 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 that 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."

Corriere quoted the recipient of this week's call, Stefano Cabizza, a 19-year-old student, as saying that Francis had told him to refer to him informally, noting that "Even Jesus and the apostles used the 'tu.' "

(Read more: A blunt Pope Francis targets free markets)

Cabizza said he received the call after leaving a letter for Francis after his Mass at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 15. He declined to say what he had written.

Finally, Severgnini advised, don't be worried about what to say.

"Just be natural," he wrote. "If he wanted to get bored, he would have called a government minister."

—By The Associated Press

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