Pope Francis offers Epiphany picnic to poor people at Vatican


 Reuters International

Pope Francis leaves at the end of the Epiphany mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis gave 300 homeless people and refugees a sandwich and a drink to thank them for helping to hand out religious pamphlets at an Epiphany feast day service on Friday.

The picnic, announced by the pope's charity office, was the latest gesture from the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to the needy, whose plight he has made a central cause of his papacy.

Francis has ordered showers for the homeless to be set up just off St. Peter's Square, and treated 1,500 to Neapolitan pizza after the canonisation of Mother Teresa last year.

On Jan. 6, Christians celebrate the Epiphany, the biblical story of three wise men who travel from the East, following a star, to find the baby Jesus.

Speaking from the window of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Francis compared the gifts the wise men - or Magi - are believed to have brought to Jesus to the pamphlets handed out to the roughly 35,000 faithful in St. Peter's Square.

"I thought I would give you a little gift too. The camels are missing but I will give you the gift," he said. "I wish you a year of justice, forgiveness, serenity, but above all mercy. Reading this book will help - it fits in your pocket!"

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Reuters

 Reuters International