VATICAN CITY - Thousands of people sang “Happy Birthday” and danced a mass tango on Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of the first Latin American pope.
Argentinian Pope Francis was born in the birthplace of the tango on Dec. 17, 1936. On Wednesday, he heard versions of “Happy Birthday” in Spanish, Italian and other languages as he was driven through St. Peter's Square to start his weekly general audience.
Argentine priests handed him a cake and he blew out the candles before his open-top jeep moved on. The vehicle stopped again so the pope, visibly pleased, could accept a birthday drawing from an Italian boy.
At the rear edge of the square, more than 2,000 people who came to Rome from all over Italy for the birthday danced in “A tango for Pope Francis” event as music blared.
“We are here for the pope's birthday. We are dancing the tango as our present to him,” said an Italian woman who identified herself only as Linda.
Francis, who become Latin America's first pope when he was elected in 2013, is a fan of the dance from the land of his birth.
A representative group of homeless people gave the pope a gift of eight sunflowers to thank him for his concern. Recently, the pope, who has in the past invited homeless people to lunch with him, ordered that shower stalls be built near the Vatican so homeless people can wash up.
A Spanish meat cooperative brought 800 kg of poultry to be given to Rome charity groups in the pope's name, the Vatican said.
According to figures released by the Vatican on Wednesday, nearly 1.2 million people have seen the pope at outdoor general audiences this year.