“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 85 on Dec. 17, his ninth birthday as pope, here are four things to know about him.
1. 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.
2. Francis has never visited his native country of Argentina as pope
Despite traveling to 55 different countries across 35 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.”
3. An unconfirmed report that Pope Francis is dying recently went viral
A report on the website Newsmax earlier this month claimed that a source in the Vatican had revealed that Pope Francis was dying and unlikely to survive past 2022.
The report got a lot of attention — including from the website FactCheck.org — but its claims are unconfirmed.
Pope Francis spent 10 days in a Rome hospital in July after undergoing surgery on his colon, which the Vatican said was to treat diverticulitis, a stricture in the large intestine.
Since the hospitalization, there have been unsubstantiated rumors that the state of the pope’s health is worse than the Vatican reported.
A rumor spread on social media in July about Pope Francis resigning the papacy “in the next few hours” was soon proven false.
4. Pope Francis’ doctor is a specialist in aging
After his physician died earlier this year, Pope Francis chose a specialist in aging as his new personal doctor.
Roberto Bernabei, who is from Florence, has many years of experience in geriatric medicine and aging.
Pope Francis has often placed a focus on the elderly during his pontificate, speaking frequently about their inherent dignity and the value they bring to society.
In September, Pope Francis wrote a letter to elderly priests in northern Italy, telling them that aging is a privilege because it is the chance to suffer like Jesus Christ.
“You are experiencing a season, old age, which is not a disease but a privilege,” he said. “And even those of you who are sick live, we can say, a privilege: that of resembling Jesus who suffers, carrying the cross just like Him.”