Elton John calls Pope Francis a “hero” for LGBT outreach

Charles Sykes/Invision/APElton John performs at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 13th Annual "An Enduring Vision" benefit at Cipriani's Wall Street on Tuesday

Charles Sykes/Invision/APElton John performs at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 13th Annual "An Enduring Vision" benefit at Cipriani's Wall Street on Tuesday

Elton John called Pope Francis “my hero” for his compassion and push to accept gays in the Catholic Church at his annual AIDS benefit.

He said Francis is pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”

The event, “An Enduring Vision: A Benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation” on Tuesday night in New York, raised $3.7 million.

“Ten years ago, one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic Church. Today, we have a pope that speaks out about it,” John said, earning cheers.

Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays this month, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families. An earlier draft of the document offered a welcoming tone of acceptance, but it was stripped away after the bishops failed to reach a consensus on a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals.

“He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,” John said of the pope. “It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that opposes. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that's what we need in the world today.”

Event attendees included John's husband, David Furnish, as well as Neil Patrick Harris, Alec Baldwin, Matt Lauer and host Anderson Cooper. A lunch date with newsmen was part of the auction, dubbed the “great anchor sandwich,” and it sold for $45,000.

“I will give a little extra with dessert if you know what I mean,” Cooper said at the top of the event. “It could be a long, saucy lunch.”

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Giants second baseman Joe Panik is 25. … Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro is 39. … Actress Nia Long (“The Single Moms Club”) is 44. … Actor Jack Plotnick (“Reno 911!”) is 46. … Actor Harry Hamlin (“L.A. Law”) is 63. … Actor Henry Winkler (“Arrested Development”) is 69. … Singer Otis Williams of The Temptations is 73. … Singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane is 75. — Staff, wire report

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