VATICAN CITY — Two doves celebrated their freedom with a soaring flight over St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, all thanks to Pope Francis.
As Francis toured the square in his open-topped popemobile at his weekly public audience, someone in the crowd thrust a white bird cage with two doves inside at him. Looking puzzled, his security detail took the cage and handed it to Francis.
Without hesitation, the pope opened the cage door, thrust a hand inside, extracted one dove and sent it to fly over the vast square.
Francis struggled to remove the other bird, whose feathers got caught in the cage bars. It sat for a while on his hand, before it too flew off.
At the end of the audience, the pope announced that he planned to go to the Italian island of Sardinia in September. He told the crowd that Buenos Aires, the city where he was archbishop before being elected pope in March, owes its name to a religious shrine, Madonna of Bonaria, near Cagliari, and that he wanted to visit that shrine.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, made a pilgrimage to the Mediterranean island in 2008 to mark the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Virgin Mary of Bonaria as Sardinia's religious patron. The island is famed for the exceptional longevity of its residents.
Benedict retired in February this year, becoming the first pontiff to do so in 600 years. Now 86, he is living in a monastery on the Vatican grounds.
In July, Francis makes a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, his first trip abroad since becoming pope.