Pope Francis, who turned 78 on Wednesday, celebrated the occasion by handing out 400 sleeping bags to homeless people living on the streets in Rome. There are approximately 3,276 homeless people currently living in Rome, half of whom have no shelter at all and live on the streets, a recent survey found.
According to Religion News, the Pope’s archbishop in charge of charitable giving, Konrad Krajewski, led a group of volunteers around the local area to distribute the sleeping bags. “This is a gift for you from the pope on the occasion of his birthday,” the group told recipients. The pope also held a birthday lunch at the Vatican, with four homeless individuals among the guests.
But if you’re surprised that Francis would rather give out presents than receive them for his birthday, you haven’t been paying enough attention to this pope. Last month, despite some internal opposition in the Vatican, the pope ordered that public showers be installed in St. Peter’s Square so homeless people would have a place to bathe.
Francis has also been quietly sneaking out of the Vatican to minister to homeless residents living on the streets.
Addressing poverty and economic inequality has become a central theme of Francis’ nearly two-year tenure. He has attacked unbridled wealth accumulation, pointing out that Bible calls for a “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits” in order to care for the poor. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” said Francis last year. He has also been highly critical of trickle-down economics.
Time Magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year has been continuing his good works unabated this year, denouncing inhumane working conditions in developing countries, advocating for prisoners’ rights, defending the environment, and most recently, playing a pivotal role in fostering renewed relations between the United States and Cuba.