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Pope Francis, 86, now the oldest pope to travel abroad

Pope-Francis-boards-his-plane-heading-to-the-World-Youth-Day-in-Lisbon-August-02-2023

ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Hugues Lefèvre - published on 08/30/23

At 86, Pope Francis is about to embark on his 43rd apostolic trip abroad since his election in 2013 on August 31. This is a record in the history of the papacy, despite his limited physical mobility.

After more than 10 years at the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis seems to have no intention of slowing down. His recent abdominal operation, which required 1o days’ hospitalization, and his knee, which forces him to use a wheelchair most of the time, seem to have had no effect on the Argentine Pontiff’s agenda.

This summer, he joined with the hundreds of thousands of young people who came to pray with him at the World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon. Now, on August 31, 2023, he will take off for a 10-hour flight to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia

Setting a papal record

At nearly 87 — his birthday is on December 17 — the Argentine Pontiff is the oldest sitting pope in history to travel abroad.

In 2020, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI visited his ailing brother in Regensburg at the age of 93. But his last trip as Pope was to Lebanon in September 2012. He was 85 at the time.

John Paul II made his last trip abroad in 2004, to Lourdes, at the age of 84. Paul VI, who died in 1978 at the age of 80, had not made a foreign trip since eight years earlier, when he visited East Asia and Oceania. 

Mongolia will be the Argentine Pope’s fourth trip of the year, following his trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan (February), his visit to Hungary (April) and the World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal.

Since his trip to Canada a year ago, the head of the Catholic Church has been using a wheelchair during his foreign visits, and walks very little. 

This year, the Argentine Pontiff is also due to visit Marseille on September 22 and 23. He has also mentioned (without giving a date) a trip to Kosovo.

Pope Francis is not the oldest sitting pontiff in history. That record belongs to Pope Leo XIII, who died in July 1903 at the age of 93 years and 140 days.

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