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Pope eats with homeless on 80th birthday

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis celebrated an active if low-key 80th birthday on Saturday, sharing breakfast with eight homeless people before celebrating Mass with cardinals as greetings poured in from around the world.

The pontiff received more than 70,000 email messages wishing him a happy birthday, as well as telephone calls and telegrams from world leaders and religious figures.

His predecessor, 89-year-old Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, sent a “very affectionate’’ written greeting that the Vatican said was “particularly appreciated,’’ followed by a personal call in the afternoon and three small gifts that the bore “very personal and significant meaning for both.’’ The Vatican did not otherwise divulge the nature of the gifts.

At breakfast, Francis chatted individually with each of the homeless guests – four Italians, two Romanians, a Moldovan and a Peruvian – at the Vatican hotel where he resides, and shared Argentinian cakes with them before heading to Mass.

The guests offered the pope a bouquet of sunflowers. They were invited from among those staying around St. Peter’s Square and at nearby showers for the homeless established by the pope’s almsgiver. The pope also sent enough birthday cakes for 1,500 people to kitchens serving the poor and homeless in Rome.