Just when people in different parts of the world are still falling in love with his infectious style, Pope Francis has publicly broached the prospect of his own death for the first time, light-heartedly giving himself “two or three years” but not ruling out retirement before then.
Talking to reporters on a flight back to the Vatican from South Korea, the 77-year-old pontiff, who seemed in good spirits, was asked about his global popularity, which was evident again during his five-day visit.
“I see it as the generosity of the people of God. I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, not to become proud. Because I know it will last only a short time. Two or three years and then I’ll be off to the Father’s house,” he replied.
One of the hardest working global figures in modern time, the Argentinian pope said he could handle the popularity “more naturally” these days, though at first it had “scared me a little”.
If indeed Francis has to meet his maker in two or three years, the Catholic Church would have had three popes in four years
His papacy began on March 13, 2013 after his predecessor, Benedict XVI, retired.
The current pope has also not ruled out the possibility of resigning if he feels he could no longer adequately perform his duties.
Resigning the papacy was a possibility “even if it does not appeal to some theologians”, he told reporters.
He added that 60 years ago it was practically unheard of for Catholic bishops to retire, but nowadays it was common. “Benedict XVI opened a door,” he said.
Francis admitted he had “some nerve problems”, which required treatment. “Must treat them well, these nerves, give them mate [an Argentinian stimulant tea] every day,” he joked.
“One of these neuroses is that I’m too much of a homebody,” he added, recalling that the last time he had taken a holiday outside his native Argentina was “with the Jesuit community in 1975”.