Pope Francis celebrates his 87th birthday on Sunday, Dec. 17, the third Sunday of Advent, as he continues to reign as the oldest pope in the past century and one of the oldest popes in the Church’s history.
As the 266th successor of St. Peter to the papacy, Francis will be the oldest bishop of Rome since Pope Leo XIII, the oldest pope in history, who served until his death in 1903 at the age of 93.
Fewer than 10 popes have served at the age of 87. Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, lived until the age of 95 but stepped down from the papacy less than two months before his 86th birthday.
The pontiff commented on his health and his age earlier this week in an exclusive interview with the Mexican news outlet N+, saying that his health has improved but also asking for prayers.
“I need you to pray for my health [because] … old age does not come by itself … it does not make itself up, it presents itself as it is,” Francis said.
The pope has suffered from a series of health issues over the last three years of his papacy but said in an interview that he has not considered resigning. When Benedict resigned in 2013, the former pontiff cited health issues as the primary reason.
From December 2020 into January 2021, Francis canceled a few public appearances due to sciatic nerve pain. He landed in the hospital and required surgery in July 2021 with colon problems caused by diverticulitis.
In January 2022, the pontiff opened up about problems he was having with his knee, which caused him to cancel several public appearances. In May 2022, Francis used a wheelchair for the first time in public since his colon surgery and announced that he would have surgery on his knee.
Francis announced in January of this year that his diverticulitis had returned and canceled some public appearances in February and March due to at first a severe cold and subsequently a respiratory infection. He received surgery to repair an incisional hernia in June. In November, the pontiff canceled some trips due to the flu.
Despite lingering health issues, Francis has continued to make pastoral visits around the world. He made three trips in 2021: one to Iraq, one to Hungary and Slovakia, and one to Cyprus and Greece. He made four trips in 2022, visiting Malta, Canada, Kazakhstan, and Bahrain.
Pope Francis also made five trips in 2023: one to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, one to Hungary, one to Portugal, one to Mongolia, and another to France. The pontiff has two trips lined up for 2024: one to India and another to his native country, Argentina, with stops in Brazil and Uruguay.
The Vatican has not announced birthday plans for the pope, but on his 86th birthday, Francis honored three individuals who do charitable work. The pontiff is scheduled to deliver his weekly Sunday Angelus at noon local time.