Officially speaking, the Vatican doesn't do much to mark a pope's birthday. Unofficially, however, Francis marked the period around his 77th birthday Dec. 17.
As 2013 reached an end, Pope Francis’ burgeoning following on Twitter crossed the 11 million mark, taking all nine of his accounts in different languages into view. Spanish leads the way, with four and a half million pope followers, while English was in second place with three and a half million.
Given the wide popularity of the new pope, the fact that he’s now the most followed religious figure in the Twitter universe, surpassing the 8.2 million who follow the Dali Lama, is probably no real surprise.
Every so often a day rolls around that seems to perfectly sum up the arc of a story, and Saturday, Dec. 21, felt like one of those days in Pope Francis' ongoing reform campaign.
To set the scene, Francis had two big appointments on his calendar Dec. 21: the pope's annual year-end address to the Roman Curia and a visit to Rome's Bambino Gesù Hospital, which specializes in the care of sick children.
Perhaps the most dramatic Christmas Day example of the “Francis effect” came not in the Vatican but across town, in a Roman detention center for poor and undocumented immigrants. A four-day hunger strike, which featured angry Muslims from Morocco and Tunisia sewing their mouths shut, was suspended because the protestors were persuaded that Francis could “make us heard.”
In yet another gesture of outreach to ordinary people, Pope Francis starting in January will invite parishioners from Roman parishes to join him for his daily morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he lives.
The news was first reported yesterday by the Italian paper Corriere della Sera and confirmed today by the Vatican Press Office.
There are roughly 320 parishes in the Rome diocese.
The following is an NCR translation of the brief statement:
If anyone wants an example of what the emphasis on mercy under Pope Francis looks like in action, they'll find one this afternoon in Rome at the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the pope's Jesuit order, where a funeral will be celebrated for a Colombian transgendered and homeless person beaten to death five months ago.
Pope Francis addressed anti-Christian persecution today, on the day after attacks on two Christian churches in Baghdad left at least 38 dead. He called for a moment of silence in honor of victims of such violence and said it must be “denounced and eliminated.”
His remarks came in an Angelus address on the feast of St. Stephen, the day after Christmas, and they marked the latest reference to anti-Christian persecution in what has become an emerging theme for Francis.
Though Pope Francis himself may not have stepped outside the bounds of the usual Christmas events yesterday, his influence clearly did, as perceptions of his sympathy to immigrants reportedly helped suspend a protest that had seen poor migrants in Rome stitch their lips together, refuse to eat, and sleep outside despite freezing cold at night.
Those gestures were intended to highlight what migrants describe as inhuman treatment at their Rome detention center, formally known as the “Center for Identification and Expulsion”.
Christians regard Jesus as the Prince of Peace, and popes generally use their Christmas day Urbi et Orbi address, “to the city and the world,” to express hopes for peace in various global hot spots.
Francis continued that tradition today, beginning with the conflict in Syria and then going on to mention the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In his first Christmas homily as pope, Francis tonight underlined the “vulnerability” embraced by God in choosing to become a poor human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Pope Francis celebrated the Vatican’s traditional Christmas vigil Mass this evening in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the Vatican reporting that it had received a record number of requests from people seeking to take part in the Mass.