ROME – Almost anyone who’s ever met Pope Francis in person has heard some version of his standard laugh line. It generally goes like this: When the visitor assures the pope that he or she is praying for him, the pontiff, with a twinkle in his eye, will ask a simple question.

Pro, o contra?

That is, are you praying for me or against me? It’s a jocular way of acknowledging that Francis understands he tends to be a lightning rod, stirring both passion and outrage.

On Friday, however, the pontiff added a new twist to his standard trope, indirectly, and still with tongue in cheek, suggesting that at least some of those contra prayers may be coming from inside the Vatican itself.

The aside came on Friday, when Pope Francis took a brief car ride down the Via della Conciliazione in order to address a conference on efforts to promote Italy’s historically low birth rate.

At the end of his speech, the pontiff issued his standard invitation to “not forget to pray for me,” adding the usual, “please, pray in favor and not against!”

Unbidden, the pope than launched into an extemporaneous anecdote after handing his prepared text to an aide.

“One time, I was finishing an audience and about twenty meters away, where the fence was, there was a lady, a small old lady with beautiful eyes,” the pope said,

“She called out to me, ‘Come over, come over,’ and she seemed kind. I approached her and asked, “Ma’am, what’s your name?” She told me. Then I asked, ‘How old are you?’ She said, ‘87.’”

Francis, obviously impressed with how well the older woman was holding up despite her age, said he then asked, “What do you do, what do you eat to be so strong?”

He said the woman responded, “I eat ravioli … I make them myself,” and then, according to Francis, she proceeded to give him her recipe.

(The pope did not add the particular that he himself is today 87, nor did he reveal whether ravioli have become part of his anti-aging strategy.)

The pope then continued his story.

“I said to her, ‘Ma’am, please, pray for me.’ She said, ‘I do, every day.’”

“As a joke, I said, ‘But listen, pray for me, not against.’ The old lady smiled and said to me, ‘Be careful, Father, they’re praying against you inside there,’” as the pope pointed over his shoulder, indicating the Vatican.

“Clever, huh?” the pope said, referring to the old woman’s quip. “Maybe a little anti-clerical,” drawing laughs from the audience.

The pope then said again, “For me, not against!”, closing by repeating his request for prayers.