Homeless, prisoners among pope's birthday well-wishers

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — People from around the world,
especially the poor and the homeless, had a chance to send their good wishes
for Pope Francis’ 80th birthday.

Eight homeless people — two women and six men — made
their way to the pope’s residence at Domus Sanctae Marthae for an early
birthday breakfast, the Vatican said Dec. 17.

The people, who hailed from Italy, Moldova, Romania and
Peru, were accompanied by Archbishop
Konrad Krajewski, papal

“Pope Francis met with the them, greeting them
affectionately one by one. The homeless gave the Holy Father three bouquets of
sunflowers,” which he immediately placed in the residence’s chapel, the
Vatican said Dec. 17.

People from around the world also tweeted messages using the
hashtag #Pontifex80 or sent email’s according to their preferred language,
including Latin.

According to the Vatican press office, more than 70,000
birthday emails were sent to Pope Francis, the majority of which were sent in
English, Spanish, Polish and Italian. The Vatican also noted that over 1,000
birthday greetings were sent to the pope in Latin.

Prisoners from the “Due Palazzi” prison in Padua, northern
Italy, also had a chance to wish the pope a happy birthday via Skype.

Father Marco
Pozza, the prison’s chaplain, told Vatican Radio that he had arranged a
Skype video call between Pope Francis and several inmates, guards and personnel
from the prison.

The prisoners thanked the pope “for your daily witness,
which nourishes our hopes and our dreams,” Father Pozza told Vatican

Thanking them for their “tenderness and closeness,”
the pope gave his blessings to the inmates, personnel and their families.

“God bless you all. I pray for you. I am close to you
and I give you the Lord’s blessing,” the pope said.

The pope also received birthday greetings from his
predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI who sent “a handwritten and very
affectionate message that was particularly appreciated,” the Vatican press
office said in a statement.

Pope Benedict also called Pope Francis and sent him
“three small gifts which the Holy Father received as three very personal
and significant signs for both of them,” the Vatican said.

After his breakfast with the homeless, the pope
concelebrated morning Mass with cardinals living in Rome.

“The past few days one word that seems a bit awful
keeps coming to mind — old age. It’s scary, at any rate, scary,” he said
at the end of the Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the apostolic palace.

But, he said, like he told the cardinals a few days
after his election in 2013, “‘old age is where wisdom resides.’ Let’s hope
this goes for me, too. Let’s hope this is the case!”

With “the silent passage of time,” as Ovid
called it, old age charges right at you. It’s a blow. But when one thinks of it
as a stage of life that is for giving joy, wisdom, hope, one begins to live
again,” he said.

“Pray that it will be like this for me —
tranquil, religious and fruitful, and also joyful. Thank you!”

In his homily, the pope told the cardinals how
important it was to remember the past in order to move forward in life better.

Looking back one can see the beautiful people and gifts
one has received from God and also one’s sins, which remind us how important
God is for our salvation, he said.

One can say in prayer before God, “I am a sinner but
you can save me. You will carry me ahead,” the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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