85th birthday of Pope Francis

As of: December 17th, 2021 5:09 am

Pope Francis is 85 years old today: an age that has become symbolic through its predecessor. After an operation, he appears agile and aggressive again when traveling – with a clear opinion on the subject of resigning from office.

By Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Studio Rome

Francis never makes a fuss about his birthday. On the personal celebration agenda of the Pope, the name day and the anniversaries of baptism and ordination are higher up. Francis always celebrates his birthday like an almost normal working day. If anything, there has been a short celebration with poor and homeless people in recent years. At his 80th, however, five years ago, Francis allowed himself to publicly reflect on old age at a mass, with a quote from Holderlin: “It’s calm, old age, and pious,” said Francis in German.

Jörg Seisselberg
ARD-Studio Rom

At 85, Francis has now reached an age that has become symbolic in the Vatican. His predecessor Benedict XVI. declared his resignation at 85, his predecessor John Paul II died shortly before reaching this age. Francis’ health worried in the summer – after an intestinal operation that was more serious than originally communicated. But, says Vatican expert and author Iacopo Scaramuzzi: “After what we see, he has recovered well.” It is actually quite impressive “how he regained his strength as a man of 85 years after an operation that was already significant”.

“Not as sprightly as Adenauer”

This can be observed up close when traveling. Francis is sometimes short of breath because he only has one lung, and he needs help climbing stairs because of his hip problems. Otherwise, however, the Pope is full of energy and energy again. On the trip to Cyprus and Greece, the journalists accompanying him were impressed by how physically agile and mentally aggressive Francis presented himself on many appointments.

Marco Politi, author of several Franziskus books, says there is no trace of the Pope being tired at the age of 85: “Adenauer stopped being Chancellor at the age of 87. Francis is certainly not as vigorous as Chancellor Adenauer, but he is firm determined to move on “.

Francis has wiped other rumors from the table. In an interview a few weeks ago, the Pope never thought of resigning after the summer as a result of his health problems. Basically, however, Francis has made it clear several times: Popes emeritus would become the norm in the future, and resignation for health reasons is not a taboo for him either.

Politi believes: “He will definitely work until the last moment if he is physically feeling good”. But if it should be so, “that he has no more strength, then he will abdicate quite rationally” – just like Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI: In their attitude towards abdication, the reformer and the hardliner are not far apart.


Will to reform unbroken

At the moment, however, such considerations did not play a role. In the new year of his life, Francis wanted, among other things, to advance the demanding synodal process of the universal Church. The Pope also has plans for exhausting journeys: He wants to go to Congo, Papua New Guinea and Oceania. And the reform of the Curia was soon to become a reality.

Francis’ will to change is unbroken, says Scaramuzzi: “Pope Francis is trying to reform the church, and he is doing it step by step”. For his critics, this is going too fast for some, too slow for others. But, says Scaramuzzi: “His direction is still pretty clear: He doesn’t want a church that makes moral judgments, but a church that is open.”

For which Francis wants to work as long as possible. With a view to his birthday, the Pope also said that he would like to age roughly as described by Holderlin: “Pray for me that my age will be like this: calm, pious, fruitful – and also happy”.

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