Being pope carries no age requirement. Pope John XII is believed to have been 18 years old when he ascended to the papacy in 955. On his 84th birthday, our current pope wears orthopedic shoes and uses a cane at times. Pope Francis is now the same age as Pope Saint John Paul II at the time of his death, and less than two years younger than Pope Emeritus Benedict at the time of his resignation in 2013.

Yesterday, sunflowers arrived for Francis’s birthday, and were on display during the broadcast of his weekly General Audience.

The poor of the city of Rome sent the sunflowers, through Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, to adorn the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at Casa Santa Marta where the pope lives, “as a reminder of the need to always turn our gaze towards the Lord who is present in the weakest,” according to the Vatican.

In previous years, the pope has celebrated his birthday by inviting homeless people to breakfast with him. Today he’s spending a quiet day of prayer, sharing meals with the other Santa Marta residents. The pope sent a gift of four respirators to Venezuela in a sign of closeness to children with lung diseases, the Vatican reported.

The pope’s own diminished lung capacity resulted from a surgery that removed the upper part of his right lung in the late 1950s, the Associated Press reported. The book Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio says he was 21 when the surgery occurred. As a result of the illness, the pope has said he can relate to coronavirus patients.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936, the eldest of five children to a family of Italian origin. As a student, he worked as a bouncer at a club and as a janitor. When his mother Regina became ill, he attended boarding school for a time.

As pope he has shown a simple yet profound devotion to Jesus’ mother Mary. “If you don’t love the mother, the mother will not give you the Son,” Francis has said about Mary.

Last week Francis declared 2020 the “Year of Saint Joseph,” who he says helps us recognize the importance of “ordinary” people far from the limelight who exercise patience and offer hope daily. In this, they resemble St. Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

Image: Vatican News


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Kathleen Murphy is a journalist who has worked for CQ Roll Call, Stateline.org and Internet World. She was the inaugural journalist in residence at Marymount University. Early in her career she was Marco Island bureau chief and columnist for the Naples (Fla.) Daily News. Murphy earned a B.S. from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a master’s degree from Yale Divinity School.

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