VATICAN CITY (RNS) Addressing journalists on his return from his intense five-day visit to South Korea late Monday (Aug. 18), Pope Francis bantered with reporters and lightheartedly said he may only have “two or three” years left to live.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Bethlehem during his trip to the Middle East on May 25, 2014. Since returning, Francis has maintained an interest in the area, most recently personally calling the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories on July 18, 2014, to push for a cease-fire.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Bethlehem during his trip to the Middle East on May 25, 2014.Creative Commons image by Michael Swan

The 77-year-old pontiff covered a range of topics on the flight back to the Vatican — from war-torn Iraq and his desire to visit the U.S. next year to his personal health, hinting he may retire early.

He was asked how he lived with the immense popularity he has generated around the world, evident when crowds chanted his name on the streets of Rio de Janeiro during his first official visit to Brazil last year.

“I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, so as not to think that I am somebody,” he said. “Because I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then (go) to the house of the Father,” he said during an in-flight media conference.

Elected in March 2013, Francis has already shaken up the Catholic Church, preaching a message of humility and compassion while moving to clean up corruption and cronyism at the Vatican bank and reforming the Curia.

While he appeared to be in good health, Francis also addressed recent concerns about his well-being and his last-minute cancellation of a visit to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital in June. Years ago he had part of a lung removed, and he reportedly has been troubled by back pain.

“I should have gone to the Gemelli up to 10 minutes before I was there, but I could not do it,” he said. “It is true, they were seven very demanding days then, full of engagements. Now I have to be a little more prudent.”

The energetic pope, who grew up in Buenos Aires, joked about “neuroses” and revealed that his last holiday was a trip outside the Argentine capital in 1975. He said he had recently learned to slow down.

“I change rhythm,” he said. “I sleep more. I read the things I like. I listen to music. That way I rest. In July and part of August I did that.”

The pope reaffirmed his support for former Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to retire and did not rule out a similar move himself.

“I think that the emeritus pope is already an institution because our life gets longer and at a certain age there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired, and maybe one’s health is good, but there isn’t the capacity to carry forward all the problems of a government like that of the church,” he said.

“I would do the same,” he added. “I would pray, but I would do the same.”

Pope Francis’ return to the Vatican was marred by news of a family tragedy. On Tuesday (Aug. 19), a road accident in Argentina killed two of his young great-nephews as well as their mother, the wife of the pope’s nephew, the Vatican said.



  1. Interesting story.

    “there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired…”

    There was a time when being a Pope was simply to be a dictator.
    Now that people are free to challenge the Vatican without being slaughtered
    for it, the job is clearly harder.

    For centuries pedophile priests went unchallenged and were unknown.
    And countless crimes were either covered up or excused.

    Now it is all transparent and claims are disintegrating.
    How do you hold up a sand castle when the sand starts to disappear?

  2. There was a time when being a Pope was simply to be a dictator.
    Now that people are free to challenge the Vatican without being slaughtered
    for it, the job is clearly harder.

    Try not to make your ignorance too manifest.

    • @Art Deco,

      Are you denying the Inquisitions from 1255 to modern times?
      Are you also denying the inquisitors were authorized by the Holy See to turn over the Vatican challengers, heretics and apostates to secular authorities for execution, and that the Papal States executed people for many different kinds of crimes against the church or the supposed ‘god’ Christ?

      Are you actually denying this well-known bloody history spanning almost 1000 years?

      In this age of digital libraries you cannot bring yourself to learn something?

    • @Art Deco,

      Hey Art –
      how about you go smoke a goat for your Lord.
      Maybe he’ll grant you three wishes! (Exodus 29:18)


      “Take one of the rams… Slaughter it and take the blood
      and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides.
      Cut the ram into pieces and wash the inner parts and the legs,
      putting them with the head and the other pieces.
      Then burn the entire ram on the altar.
      It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma,
      an offering made to the LORD by fire.
      (Exodus 29:18)

      Clearly this could not have been manmade!

      Too bad God didn’t think of mint jelly.
      But there I go again, improving on GOD’s plans! Silly me. :-)

        • Which is Passive-Aggressive Christianspeak for “go f— yourself”

          And it is always done with condescending arrogance designed to make you feel inferior that says, “Not only am I right and you are wrong, but I am a better person than you” or “You obviously can’t take care of (fill in the blank) yourself, and God won’t help you on his own, so I’ll ask since he listens to me more.” It is a Christian’s passive-aggressive way (or a passive-aggressive Christian’s way) of putting you down. It can mean, “You’re such a wretched specimen of humanity that you need divine intervention in order to avoid your just punishment of eternal torment by fire.”

          When someone is being mean or hurtful to you and not acting in a Christian manner, yet then stares you in the face and says “But I’ll Pray for You”….how do you react? It seems sad to me that as Christians sometimes “I’ll Pray for you” is used as a jab. It is just another tool to be pulled out when lies, misinformation, bluster, appeals to emotion, and fearmongering haven’t carried the day for them. It’s like a drive-by praying, you know? It isn’t as if the magic won’t work if the fact that a prayer is coming remains undisclosed.

  3. Nothing would go so far towards opening the church than the recognition that even the Pope is human; and humans age, and sometimes they don’t age gracefully.

    At some age, whatever function one is supposed to serve, it is not as one who is substantially responsible for the spiritual lives of hundreds of millions. At some age, one has to acknowledge not only mortality, but humanity

  4. The Roman Catholic Church has had manifest failures, as well as magnificent victories, Popes both pure and evil. I applaud Francis for declaring in his own way that the power of the papacy is not something to cling to unto death.

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