VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis treated a few hundred homeless people and refugees to a simple sandwich lunch on Friday, and urged the faithful to find God in the peripheries of society, not its palaces.
Francis celebrated Mass marking Epiphany, the biblical tale of the three wise men who set out to find the infant Jesus and offer precious gifts. At the end of the service, homeless people and refugees joined volunteers to hand out 50,000 booklets with biblical tales of God's mercy to pilgrims gathered in a frigid St. Peter's Square.
Francis said he too wanted to give the faithful the gift of God's mercy for the coming year.
He then offered some 300 needy people a simple lunch of a sandwich and drink, the Vatican said, part of his long-running outreach to the poor and homeless who live around the Vatican.
During this Christmas season, Francis has emphasized the humble setting of Christ's birth while criticizing a church that is closed in on itself, its wealth and its achievements. It's a message Francis has repeated during his papacy, faulting those who are obsessed with Christianity's rules and morals over God's mercy, particularly to society's most marginal.
Francis criticized those who are "anesthetized" to God's mercy, who want to "control everything and everyone" and fear any challenges to their wealth and achievements.
They suffer, he said, from "a bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life."
Francis' pastoral outreach, particularly to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, has been criticized by conservatives who have argued that church teaching prohibits these Catholics from receiving Communion. Francis says God's mercy is infinite and that the Eucharist isn't a prize for the perfect, but medicine for wounded souls.