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Pope enjoys some fancy footwork for his birthday

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Pope Francis, who celebrates his 78th birthday, blows out candles on a cake as he arrives to lead his general audience at the Vatican, December 17, 2014. Thousands of people sang "Happy Birthday" and danced a mass tango on Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of the first Latin American pope. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

Pope Francis, who celebrates his 78th birthday, blows out candles on a cake as he arrives to lead his general audience at the Vatican, December 17, 2014. Thousands of people sang "Happy Birthday" and danced a mass tango on Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of the first Latin American pope. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

A faithful holds a balloon as Pope Francis, whose 78th birthday was yesterday, arrives to lead his general audience at the Vatican, December 17, 2014.

A faithful holds a balloon as Pope Francis, whose 78th birthday was yesterday, arrives to lead his general audience at the Vatican, December 17, 2014.

Couples dance in front of Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican December 17, 2014. 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.  REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY - Tags: RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Couples dance in front of Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican December 17, 2014. 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. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY - Tags: RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

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Pope Francis, who celebrates his 78th birthday, blows out candles on a cake as he arrives to lead his general audience at the Vatican, December 17, 2014. Thousands of people sang "Happy Birthday" and danced a mass tango on Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of the first Latin American pope. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

Pope Francis got a cake, cards and a tango demonstration for his 78th birthday - plus 800kg of chicken for the poor.

The Vatican said the meat, provided by a Spanish producer, would be distributed to soup kitchens.

Francis also greeted eight homeless people bearing sunflowers during his general audience yesterday, held under brilliantly sunny skies in St Peter's Square.

As he drove around in his open-air car to greet the crowds, children handed up birthday cards they had made for him. Francis asked one: "Did you make this? It's good!"

Others held up signs reading "Feliz Cumpleanos" ("Happy Birthday" in Spanish) and sang to him.

Outside the square, dozens of couples danced the tango, the Argentinian pontiff's favourite dance.

"It looks like a two-by-four," said the Pope - a reference to tango.

"The tango is a dance that unites all people no matter where they come from," said Patrizia D'Aquino, part of a group from the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Despite the joyous occasion, Francis ended his birthday audience with a sobering prayer for the numerous victims of recent "inhuman terrorist attacks" in Australia, Pakistan and Yemen.

"May the Lord receive in his peace the dead, comfort the relatives and convert the hearts of the violent who don't even stop in the face of children," Francis said, in reference to the tragedies.

hnews@herald.ie


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