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Pope Francis celebrates 87th birthday with children who receive aid from Vatican clinic

Pope Francis celebrates his birthday on Dec. 17, 2023, with children and families who are assisted by the Vatican’s Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 17, 2023 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis celebrated his 87th birthday on Sunday morning ahead of his weekly Angelus by meeting with children and families who are assisted by the Vatican’s Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary.

Addressing the families present — who presented the Holy Father with a cake and a bouquet of sunflowers and sang “Happy Birthday” — the pope used the opportunity to speak on the importance of preparing for Christmas. “We think and remember when Jesus came; he came to be with us,” the pope said to the nearly 200 families gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

Pope Francis celebrates his birthday on Dec. 17, 2023, with children and families who are assisted by the Vatican’s Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary. Credit: Vatican Media

Reminding the children that this is a season to “prepare our hearts for Christmas, to receive Jesus,” the pope challenged the children: “What will I ask Jesus? What will I ask Jesus this Christmas? Now each of you think: What will I ask Jesus? In silence, eyes closed, and you think: What will I ask Jesus? Have you thought about it yet? All right.”

“And I wish you a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas to all of you! Always with a smile, and may the Lord give you everything you want,” he added.

Pope Francis celebrates his birthday Dec. 17, 2023, with children and families who are assisted by the Vatican’s Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary. Credit: Vatican Media

It has been the custom of the Argentine pontiff since becoming pope in 2013 to eschew more formal celebrations on his birthday and instead spend time with Rome’s poor and underprivileged.

In 2016, for his 80th birthday, Pope Francis had breakfast with homeless people from around the Vatican at his residence of Casa Santa Marta. In 2017 he held a pizza party for sick children in the Paul VI Audience Hall. On the occasion of his 86th birthday last year, the pope presented an award to three individuals for their charitable work.

Pope Francis receives a hug on his birthday Dec. 17, 2023. The pope in the morning met with children and families who are assisted by the Vatican’s Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary. Credit: Vatican News

The Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary, which provides medical aid to poor families and mothers, was established in 1922 by Pope Pius XI and is run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. It is staffed by volunteers of the Bambino Gesù Hospital, the Vatican’s Association of Sts. Peter and Paul, and an array of lay volunteers from other Roman hospitals.

Originally tasked with providing milk to the poor children around Rome, over the years the association’s mission grew to provide medical visits to children and their mothers and distribute a wide array of medical and alimentary goods.

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