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The pope’s on the line, and everyone’s talking

ROME — Pope Francis already has distinguished himself from his predecessor with a more down-to-earth style. Now, he is both unnerving the Vatican and delighting the faithful by picking up the telephone and spontaneously calling people, earning the nickname “the Cold Call Pope.”

Earlier this month, he called to comfort a pregnant Italian woman whose married boyfriend had unsuccessfully pressured her to have an abortion.

The woman, who is divorced and will be a single mother, wrote to the pope, fearing she had fallen afoul of the church. Pope Francis offered to personally baptize the baby when it is born next year, according to an account in La Stampa, a Turin-based daily.

In August, Francis phoned a woman in Argentina who had been raped by a local police officer. The pope told her that she was not alone and that she should have faith in the justice system, according to an Argentine television news report rebroadcast in Italy.

While the papal phoning has been widely greeted with delight, it is also proving somewhat perilous, with unsubstantiated news reports of calls supposedly made by Francis — including one last week to President Bashar Assad of Syria, and another to a young distraught French gay man. The Vatican denied that the pope had made those calls.

Other Vatican analysts fear that the advent of papal phone calls could spawn disillusion among those not blessed by a call.

“There’s an innumerable number of people who have suffered violence or injustice who might write to the pope for a word of comfort, and it’s clear that he can’t answer all of them,” said Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian and the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, a liberal Catholic research institute.

“They could think, ‘See, I’m feeling awful and the pope didn’t even call,’” said Melloni.

—Elisabetta Povoledo and Dan Bilefsky,
The New York Times

Diabetes epidemic
grows in China

China has the world’s biggest diabetes epidemic, and it continues to get worse, according to the latest study of the disease’s devastating effects on the world’s most populous country, which has risen from poverty to become an economic superpower in the last 30 years.

Previous studies had found rapidly rising rates of the disease, and the newest, published last week by The Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that China has just passed the United States: 11.6 percent of Chinese adults have the disease, compared with 11.3 percent here; in 1980, prevalence was below 1 percent.

The total — 114 million people — means China has about a third of the world’s diabetes sufferers, who are at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

That will put enormous strain on the country’s public health system, the authors said.

Perhaps even more alarming, the study, which involved testing almost 99,000 people, found that half had “prediabetic” blood glucose levels.

For unknown reasons, weight gain leads to Type 2 diabetes in Asians at even lower body mass indexes than it does in whites or blacks. The average body mass index in the study was 23.7, which is considered normal.

But obesity is increasing rapidly in China. Experts have blamed many factors: the introduction of high-calorie, Western diets and fast food, more travel by car, sedentary factory jobs replacing farm labor, and families who spoil the one child that most are allowed to have.

—Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times