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Pope makes personal phone call to nuns in Spain

Madrid (CNN) -- The nuns in a Carmelite community in Lucena, Spain, received a voice-mail message on New Year's Eve that they had to share with the world. The caller was Pope Francis.

"What are the nuns doing that they can't answer?" the pope said jokingly. "I am Pope Francis, I wish to greet you in this end of the year, I will see if I can call you later. May God bless you!"

The nuns passed the audio message to the Spanish radio network COPE, which is linked to the body that runs the Roman Catholic Church in Spain.

The nuns were praying when Francis called shortly before noon, and so didn't answer, the radio network said.

When they played the voice mail back, they got a surprise.

The prioress of the convent, Sister Adriana, told the radio network she "literally wanted to die" when she first heard the message.

"Our friendship goes back 15 years but we never thought the pope would remember to think of us," she said.

After the nuns realized that they had missed a phone call from the pope, they didn't know what to do. They consulted with their local bishop and tried to call Francis back, without success, the radio network said.

The nuns decided simply to wait in hope of another call.

Hours later, the phone rang again -- and this time they answered.

Frances talked with the community's five nuns, three of whom hail from his native Argentina, on speakerphone, COPE said.

"The message from Pope Francis was to never lose hope, because sadness leads to spiritual sloth and hopelessness," said Sister Adriana.

She added she had known Pope Francis for years and admires his simplicity and closeness to people.

The pontiff's call came on the 400th anniversary of the community.

The popularity of Francis, the first pope from Latin America, is sky-high, a CNN/ORC International poll released last month showed.

Since being elected pope in March, he has made headlines by embracing a humble way of life, caring for the poor and people with disabilities, and reaching out to the gay community.