By Cian Molloy - 18 December, 2017
Pope Francis decided to celebrate his 81st birthday yesterday (Sunday) by meeting a group of children at the Dispensario Santa Marta, a Vatican paediatric clinic.
There, instead of the more usual birthday cake, Pope Francis shared an enormous birthday pizza with the youngsters, who helped him blow out a candle placed upon the savoury dish.
Afterwards, during the midday recitation of the Rosary, there was a higher turnout of Romans that usual on most Sundays in St Peter’s Square. This is because of a long-standing Roman tradition that children bring statues of the infant Jesus to the square to be blessed by the Pope, and then these statues are brought home where on Christmas Eve, they are placed in the Nativity Crib.
During the Rosary, the Pope prayed for the safe release of six religious women who have been kidnapped in Nigeria. “I heartily join myself to the appeal of the Bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, kidnapped roughly a month ago from their convent in Iguoriakh,” the Pope said. “I pray with insistence for them and for all the other persons who find themselves in this painful condition, may they all, on the occasion of Christmas, finally return to their homes.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, which involves three professed sisters and three aspirants, but kidnapping for ransom is becoming increasingly common in Nigeria. In November, three Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, were released after they had been kidnapped, and in May, police rescued two other religious sisters who had been kidnapped and held for seven days.