Shouts of “Tanti auguri” — or, “Happy Birthday!” — filled St. Peter's Square Wednesday morning as Pope Francis circled around throngs of pilgrims on his popemobile during the weekly general audience. The Holy Father, who turned 78 on Dec. 17, stopped to blow out the candles on a cake given to him by group of Legionaries of Christ seminarians. He also took a sip of mate tea — a traditional South American drink popular in Argentina — offered to him by pilgrims. One of the lucky little pilgrims to receive a kiss from the Pope on his birthday was a small baby girl named Gaia who has been in Rome receiving medical treatment at the nearby Bambino Gesu' hospital. Gaia's mother, Daniella from Cortona, Italy, has tried to come every week for the Wednesday General audience since arriving in Rome several months ago — in fact, she told CNA this is the second time her baby has been kissed by Pope Francis. Daniella added that she hopes Pope Francis will “inspect the Church,” because she believes “he has the capacity.” “I like this Pope very much. For this reason I come to see him.” Standing nearby was Richard Tirocke from Maryland in the United States. He told CNA that even though he did not practice his Catholic faith as seriously as he used to, it was nonetheless “incredible” to have had such a close encounter with Pope Francis. “I watched him kiss that baby,” he said. “I got to touch the baby's head!” Alex and Flora Apulsen from Florida arranged their vacation in Rome to ensure that they could be in the Square with the Pope. “We wish all his wishes will come true” on his birthday, Alex said. “This is truly a Pope for the people. It’s a very specially experience to be here.” “He is a very great Pope,” said Flora. “We wish him happy birthday and all good things happen to him.” Joe Pender from Sydney Australia told CNA he came to the Audience in the hopes of getting close to Pope Francis, and to receive a blessing. “I wish him a good day, first of all, but most of all that he’s filled by the Holy Spirit today, and really blesses everyone as he continues to do every day.”
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