Tango treat for birthday boy Pope Francis

Hundreds of couples performed a tango on St Peter's square on Tuesday in a birthday treat for Pope Francis, who hails from Argentina, the birthplace of the celebrated sultry dance.

Tango treat for birthday boy Pope Francis
Hundreds of couples performed a tango on St Peter's square on Tuesday in a birthday treat for Pope Francis. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

With the recent gloomy weather giving way to sparkling sunshine and an azure sky, an even higher authority than the pontiff appeared to have given his blessing to the celebrations to mark the 78th birthday of Francis, formerly Jose Bergaglio.

The dancers, from all over Italy and further afield, were among 13,000 people at St Peter's for the Pope's weekly public audience.

Non-dancing well-wishers came bearing gifts including a birthday cake and mate, a traditional Argentinian drink, before listening to the leader of the world's Catholics issue a solemn condemnation of recent terrorist atrocities in Pakistan, Yemen and Australia.

Around midday, the dancing started. "Happy Birthday, Pope Francis! Let's widen out this circle," shouted Cristina Carmorani, a dance teacher from Conventello, near Ravenna in northeastern Italy.

It was Carmorani who came up with the idea for the birthday tango and launched an appeal for couples to come and do it though her "Tango for Francis" Facebook initiative.

More than 3,200 people had signed up to take part, she had said, with most of the volunteers elderly couples.

'I Love it'

The Pope revealed his passion for the beguiling tunes to which the dance is performed in an interview several years before he became pontiff.

"I love it. It is stronger than me," he said. His younger sister has also been quoted as saying that the pontiff, a keen sportsman in his youth, was also a very accomplished dancer.

Last year, on the first anniversary of his election as Pope, Radio Vatican marked the occasion by playing several of his favourite tango tunes, including the famous "Por una Cabeza" ("By a head") by Carlos Gardel.

The papal birthday was celebrated in a very different style by the "Papaboys", an association of young Catholics who had organised a prayer marathon at the San Lorenzo hostel for pilgrims visiting Rome.

After a midnight mass, the devout group prayed continuously until it was time for the papal audience and subsequently returned to continue in the same vein through an entire 24-hour cycle.

Spanish poultry farmers sent 800 kilogrammes (1,750 pounds) of chicken to be distributed by the Vatican's charity services via soup kitchens for the homeless around the Catholic headquarters.

The Vatican press office, which stressed that the tango was not an officially sanctioned event, said there would be a surprise for the poor later in the day, without releasing any further details.

Watch a video of the tango celebration:

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Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.