The men live on the street in the Rome neighbourhood just outside the Vatican's walls and were invited by the Holy See official in charge of alms-giving to attend the Mass on Tuesday, which Francis celebrates daily at the hotel where he lives on Vatican City grounds.

The Vatican said Francis also invited his household help to join him in a "family-like" atmosphere, and he spoke of them one by one during his homily. Francis, who is making history as one of the more informal and down-to-earth popes, struck a modest note as he reflected on people's roles in the world. "Let the Lord write our history," he said in his homily.

After Mass, all ate breakfast with Francis at the hotel dining room. The Vatican, which initially said four homeless people joined Francis, later clarified that three men had taken part, all from Eastern Europe: the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. The Vatican newspaper reported that they were asked, "Would you like to come to Pope Francis' birthday party?" and that the surprise guests brought a bouquet of sunflowers to offer the pope.

Francis had already blown out the candles on his birthday cake, presented to him on Saturday by children at the Vatican. But another present awaits him: a delegation from his favourite Argentine soccer team, San Lorenzo, will give him a replica of their championship trophy.

The pope also got an unexpected birthday gift on Tuesday, named Person of the Year by The Advocate, a US magazine for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The magazine cited the pope's "Who am I to judge" comment about gays. Francis was also named Person of the Year by Time magazine last week.


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