On December 17, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated his 80th birthday. He wasn’t surrounded with well-wishers wearing tuxes and toasting with champagne at an opulent party. Instead, he chose to share his special day at a breakfast with eight homeless people.
The guests that surrounded the Pope’s breakfast table were from all over Europe and an additional diner from South America. They consisted of four Italians, two Romanians, a Moldovan, and a Peruvian.
Pope Francis invited everyone to the lobby of the Vatican hotel where he lives. He spoke with them about values and their personal interests and offered spiritual encouragement and words of advice. At the conclusion of the meal, he split an Argentinean birthday cake with the eight individuals.
Also, the pope’s breakfast guests weren’t just sent away after the meal ended. Instead, they were invited to stay around St. Peter’s Square where they could take showers and eat at the local kitchens.
St. Peter’s Square is dedicated shelter the homeless and providing meals for the less fortunate. It’s also an excellent place for giving alms, since many people believe they are blessed for providing to those in need. The pope also had the kitchens at his Vatican residence create more than 1,500 individual birthday cakes for the poor and homeless that live in the square.
After Pope Francis had seen that the less fortunate were take care of, he attended a special Mass he celebrated with the cardinals, and tens of thousands of people who showed up to express their support. Hotels in Rome were overbooked to accommodate the well-wishers that came from all over the world for the occasion.
During the Mass, Francis talked quite a bit about the aging process and the blessings that come with it. He stated, “For some days now, I have had in mind a word that seems ugly: Old age, a thought that frightens,” he said.
Later, he talked about the profundity of growing old, recalling a statement he made in 2013: “Old age is the thirst for knowledge. I hope it will be the same for me,” he had remarked then.
For those who were unable to attend the service, Pope Francis accepted email birthday greetings. His inbox was loaded with more than 70,000 emails by the end of the day on December 17.
The messages came from every corner of the world, including communiqués from U.S. President Barack Obama and Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Obama stated that Pope Francis “has inspired people around the world with his message of compassion, hope and peace,” and Mattarella expressed his gratitude to the pontiff for caring about the homeless and less fortunate throughout the world.
Though it’s a little past his birthday now, he’s still accepting birthday greetings through the email address [email protected].
The rest of the pontiff’s birthday involved the typical duties of a pope. Saturday is a busy day at the Vatican, and Francis would not neglect his duties with the mere excuse of a natal celebration.
On the same day, he met with Malta’s president and held a separate meeting with the Nomadelfia community, a secular group that identifies with many Christian values. The latter group sang “Happy Birthday” to him during the meeting.
There were many children and youth in attendance at all the festivities, to whom the pope expressed his gratitude and blessings. All in all, Pope Francis reported that his birthday was one of “great joy.”