MUMBAI – Pope Francis turns 86 today, but instead of receiving presents he’s going to be doling them out.
In a small ceremony today at the pope’s Vatican residence in the Casa Santa Marta, Francis will bestow a small sculpture symbolizing what’s called “Mother Teresa’s caress for the world’s poor,” intended as a form of recognition and gratitude for people he believes are making a difference.
Members of the Missionaries of Charity, the community of nuns founded by Mother Teresa, who live at the order’s Mother House in Calcutta, India, released a message Friday thanking Pope Francis for the initiative.
“We are delighted that he has chosen our home and our Mother, St. Teresa of Calcutta’s caress of the poor, as the model for the recipients of the award,” the sisters said.
“Mother has been a true Missionary of Charity, a carrier of God’s love, setting all on fire with love for Him and for one another, a healing touch of God that cures all diseases, a soothing smile of God that warms all hearts, God’s own language of love that all hearts understand,” their statement said.
“We assure our beloved Holy Father of our prayers for all his intentions, especially for the suffering people in the world for whom he is deeply concerned,” the sisters said.
Today’s honorees are:
- Father Hanna Jallouf, a 70-year-old Franciscan who serves the poor in war-torn Syria. Jallouf is the pastor of the church in one of three Christian villages in Syria’s Orontes Valley, an area that’s one of the last stretches of the country still in the hands of rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. In 2014, Jallouf and several parishioners were kidnapped and then released several days later.
- Gian Piero, a 72-year-old homeless Italian known in his Tuscan community of Viareggio as “Wué,” who devotes a portion of the donations he collects every day from panhandling to help people even poorer than himself.
- Silvano Pedrollo, an Italian industrialist from Verona, who uses a considerable portion of his company’s profits to assist and help the poorest in various nations in Africa, India and Latin America, building schools, wells and health facilities.
The ceremony will take place before a group of Missionaries of Charity as well as 20 homeless people who live in their shelters around the city of Rome.
The gesture is intended to mark the 25th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death in 1997.
The statue the pope will bestow is in the form of a small globe, set inside a cube that holds it up, which is intended to be a symbol of the love that holds the world together. Painted in the globe is a window behind which Mother Teresa can be glimpsed hugging and caressing a child.
According to a report in the “Asia News” service, the imagery of the statue is meant to recall words spoken by St. Pope John Paul II in 1997 on the occasion of the founding of the Missionaries of Charity: “Mother Teresa was an open window from which Jesus looked out and smiled and gave comfort and dignity to so many poor people in so many parts of the world,” he said.