-- After Pope Francis got a cake and an impromptu tango flash mob for his 78th birthday Wednesday, he made sure Rome’s homeless got a gift, too -- sleeping bags emblazoned with the papal coat of arms.
The pontiff donated 400 of the sleeping bags to homeless people in the Italian capital, the Vatican said, continuing his tradition of helping the poor on his birthday.
Members of the pope’s famed Swiss Guard and volunteers handed out hundreds of the sleeping bags Wednesday evening, stopping at railway stations and an area near a cemetery frequented by the homeless.
“This is a gift for you from the pope on the occasion of his birthday,” they said as they passed out the sleeping bags, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Francis, who is known for his humble, charitable lifestyle, also greeted eight homeless people bearing sunflowers during his Wednesday general audience.
He marked his birthday last year by sharing breakfast and attending Mass with four homeless people. On Wednesday, he received more than 1,700 pounds of chicken meat the Vatican said would be distributed to soup kitchens.
His chief alms-giver often carries out acts of charity in Francis’ name. The Vatican has started work on three showers for the homeless just off St. Peter’s Square after the Pope requested they be built, has given out checks to those in need across Rome -- and even has enlisted off-duty Swiss Guards to drive a stranded person home.
Francis has reinvigorated the office of the Vatican almoner, entrusting the almoner, Konrad Krajewski, with hitting the streets daily in his name on mini-missions to help the poor.
Krajewski told journalists last year that each morning, the pope sends him bundles of letters he has received from the faithful, along with notes like, “You know what to do,” or, “Go find them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.