Pope Francis receives a birthday cake as he turns 79

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Italian lay movement Azione Cattolica presents a birthday cake to Pope Francis on his birthday, Dec. 17, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

A chorus burst of 'Happy Birthday' and the smell of birthday cake filled the Vatican today as a crowd of young people from the Italian lay movement 'Azione Cattolica' gathered to festively wish Pope Francis a happy birthday as he turned 79 years old.

After the Pope blew out his birthday candle, he addressed the young people who were gathered for their annual Christmas audience, thanking them for the birthday cake and well wishes. The Holy Father went on to bless the movement's commitment to the mission of welcoming migrants and encouraged them to become missionaries of Christ.

To “journey towards the Lord means to take the good road - not the evil one; it means to put oneself on the road of forgiveness, of peace, of solidarity,” Pope Francis told the youth.

“In this regard, your initiative in favor of Migrants in the Agrigento diocese is a very good one,” he continued.

'Azione Cattolica' is an association of Italian lay people who aim to proclaim the Gospel through their community and in education. One of their recent projects includes working with migrants, for which Pope Francis offered prayers and blessings.

“So many brothers and sisters of ours who arrive full of hope, but are also wounded and in desperate need of so much, including peace and bread,” the Holy Father noted, asking the movement to continue their contributions to their community and to migrants in need.

Pope Francis encouraged the youth gathered to be charitable with their possessions, saying that they should share with those less fortunate than themselves. He also offered a blessing and greeting to the leaders of 'Azione Cattolica,' thanking them for their work for the Church.

The movement 'Azione Cattolica' was only one among many well-wishers who expressed birthday greetings to the Pope on his birthday.

Yesterday at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki gave Pope Francis a birthday cake in the shape of a sombrero. Alazraki noted on Twitter that the cake was given “in the name of Mexico, who awaits you” - speaking of Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Mexico in February.

In addition, thousands of users on Twitter, including various news stations and dioceses, wished the Holy Father a happy birthday under the hashtag #HappyBirthdayPopeFrancis.

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