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4 things to know about Pope Francis on his 86th birthday

Hannah Brockhaus By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Pope Francis celebrated his 86th birthday with the Missionaries of Charity, honoring three people who care for “the poorest of the poor” with the Mother Teresa Award on Dec. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 17, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

“There is only one thing that really makes us age, grow old interiorly: not age, but sin,” Pope Francis said in 2017 during a speech about the Virgin Mary.

As Francis turns 86 on Dec. 17, his 10th birthday as pope, here are four things to know about him.

1. Pope Francis has dealt with more health problems in 2022.

Pope Francis has spent most of the 10 years of his pontificate in relatively good health until surgery on his colon in 2021. At meetings in January of this year, he shared that he was also having problems with his knee.

During the months that followed, he had to cancel some public events and a papal trip to Africa due to the ligament pain in his right knee. He also stopped taking the stairs and in May, after receiving medical treatment, he started using a wheelchair or walking short distances with a cane.

Francis has not let his mobility problems slow him down too much, though — he continues to keep a full daily and weekly schedule of appointments and is planning to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan after the trip was rescheduled for early 2023.

The head doctor of a Madrid soccer team, who is among a team of specialists treating Pope Francis’ knee, said last month that the pope is a “very stubborn patient” who has refused surgical procedures in favor of “more conservative treatments.”

2. The year of retirement rumors

In an interview with CNN Portugal in September, Francis said that a pope plans to attend the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon in August 2023, but joked that it may be “Pope John XXIV.”

“I plan to go. The pope is going to go — either Francis or John XXIV — but the pope is going,” he joked.

The quip was made after months of speculation in the media that Francis could be close to retirement. The pope told journalists on his return from Canada in July that he is “open” to the possibility of retiring if he discerns that it is God’s will.

The interview also aired just over a week after the pope visited L’Aquila, a town in northern Italy, to open the Holy Door of a 13th-century basilica.

The day trip had fueled rumors that the pope might retire because Benedict XVI had visited the same basilica four years before he announced his own resignation.

During his visit in 2009, Benedict had left his pallium — the white wool vestment given to metropolitan archbishops — on the tomb of Pope Celestine VI, an action commentators interpreted in hindsight to be indicating his intention to resign in the future.

In the end, Pope Francis did not make any surprise announcements in L’Aquila, though he has not excluded the possibility of retiring in the future.

3. Francis has never visited his native country of Argentina as pope.

Despite traveling to 59 different countries across 39 international trips, Pope Francis has yet to make a pastoral visit to Argentina, the country where he was born in 1936.

While Francis has never ruled out visiting his native country one day, he has indicated that he intends to end his days in Rome. In an interview for a book published at the beginning of this year, Pope Francis told Argentine journalist and neurologist Nelson Castro that he would not live again in Argentina.

At the end of an interview for his book “The Health of the Popes,” Castro asked Francis: “How do you imagine your death?” to which he replied: “I will be pope, whether in office or emeritus. And in Rome. I won’t return to Argentina.”

4. Pope Francis uses his birthday to focus on others.

During his first birthday as pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis celebrated his usual early morning Mass, and afterward he greeted four homeless men and women who live in the Vatican area.

His 78th birthday in 2014 fell on a Wednesday, when he usually holds his weekly audience with the public. The general audience in St. Peter’s Square went on without much additional fanfare, though he did stop to blow out the candles on a cake given to him by a group of seminarians.

In 2016, Pope Francis kicked off his 80th birthday by having breakfast with a group of homeless men and women in the dining room of his residence, and in 2017, he threw a pizza party for sick children.

Pope Francis’ 2018 celebration was also with children: he held a party and ate birthday cake with kids being treated at a free health clinic inside the Vatican.

The pope never lets his birthday get in the way of regular business, though, and in both 2019 and 2020, the day passed in an uneventful way, except for a donation of four ventilators to a children’s hospital in Venezuela on his 84th birthday.

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  1. Far too much reporting on this Pope. I’m afraid that soon CNA will be publishing Francis’ daily menu for all to see. Perhaps CNA can tell us what time he wakes and what time he retires at night. Perhaps we can get a daily list of everything he reads.

    We must be careful in the Church that we respect Peter as Peter and don’t confuse him with Christ. True worship is something that is paramount; idols of any kind violate the 1st Commandment and there’s a very good reason why the 1st Commandment occupies the place it does among the 10.

  2. Young at heart Pope Francis is an inspiration to his contemporaries, to the older, and younger fellow athletes, who are energetically running the race to serve fellow human beings.

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