On December 17th, Pope Francis turned 81. The 266th pope celebrated the milestone with an Italian favorite.
The pope blew out his birthday candle on an extra-long pizza at the Vatican—to the delight of the children present. The celebration took place during an audience with children assisted by "Dispensario Santa Marta", a Vatican pediatric clinic at the Vatican.
After blowing out his candles, Pope Francis then told the children, who all use the Vatican health service, to "eat all four meters (13 feet)." He added that it will make them grow.
NBC noted that pizzas for parties in Italy are often baked in long form. That replaces the usual round pies, which are meant for individual portions.
The pope was also offered a cake baked by the Roman pastry shop Hedera Sweetness and Co. The cake was decorated with a drawing by Italian street artist Mauro Pallotta a.k.a Maupal.
Later, Pope Francis appeared at the window of the Apolostic Palace overlooking St. Peter's Square for his weekly message and blessing. Tens of thousands of people, many of them children, sang "Happy Birthday" to the Bishop of Rome.
He replied from his window overlooking the square: "Thanks a lot, thanks a lot."
In keeping with a long-standing tradition in Rome, reported Reuters, the children faced the pope's window and held up small statues of the baby Jesus for him to bless. The statues are placed in home nativity scenes.
Francis noted the significance of this tradition, emphasizing the importance of remembering the nativity: "This is the real Christmas. If we remove Jesus, what is left? An empty feast."
In his address, Pope Francis also paused the festivities to plead for the release of Catholic nuns, who were kidnapped from their convent last month in Nigeria. Pope Francis said he hoped them, as well as all other victims of kidnappings, could be home for Christmas.