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Pope Francis pets a tiger, and both show mercy

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The unlikely encounter was perhaps the most unusual celebration yet for the Jubilee of Mercy -- a fun-filled audience with street musicians and circus performers that had a serious message.

Pope Francis caresses a tiger during a Jubilee audience for the circus performers and street artists in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on June 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CIRCUS, originally transmittted on June 16, 2016.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis got to pet a tiger cub and was treated to an acrobatics performance on Thursday (June 16) in the Vatican’s latest — and perhaps most unusual — celebration for the Jubilee of Mercy.

The Argentine pontiff smiled as he stroked the 6-month old tiger, though both Francis and the big cat seemed wary of each other at first. But a minder distracted the tiger with a feeding bottle and the pope later joked about the experience.

Francis was also presented with a bird of prey and was given a white magician’s hat, part of the Jubilee for Circus and Traveling Show People.

The pope described the performers, some of whom attended the audience with their faces painted, as artisans of celebrations, wonder and beauty.

“You enrich society in the whole world with these qualities, also with the ambition to stoke feelings of hope and trust,” he told the musicians and magicians and carnival workers.

Francis thanked his audience for taking their performances to the needy, including poor communities, the homeless, prisoners and disadvantaged youth. “This is also mercy: sowing beauty and cheerfulness in a world which is at times dark and sad.”

The pope also urged the performers to keep up the practice of their faith, despite their travels, while telling parishes to be attentive to the needs of Catholics who move around.

“You have a special resource: With your continuous movement, you can bring the love of God to everyone, his embrace and his mercy,” Francis said.

The two-day Jubilee event was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Diocese of Rome.

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