Eighty-five years of age and, three days from now, seven years as pope. Does Pope Benedict (seen left, celebrating a private Mass on his birthday) break any records with these numbers, and how does he compare to his various predecessors? Let’s take a look at him and the ten popes before him.
As far as age is concerned, Pope Benedict XVI is certainly among the oldest active popes. Only Pope Leo XIII was pope at a higher age, ending his life at 93 in 1903. Blessed John Paul II, in comparison, was 84 at the time of his passing in 2005. He was also the youngest of the ten most recent popes: when he began his papacy in 1978, he was 58 years old. Benedict XVI was already twenty years older than that at the start of his papacy.
The longest papacy was, again, that of Bl. John Paul II, ay 26 years. Leo XIII’s comes close at 25.5 years. Pius XII’s papacy lasted from almost 20 years. On the other of the scale we have Pope John Paul I’s time on the see of Rome: a mere 33 days in 1978. Benedict XVI’s seven years, then, does not rank high: he leaves only the papacies of John Paul I and Blessed John XXIII (4 years and 218 days) behind him.
While there have been a fair number of longer papacies, the current one is obviously not at an end. We hope and pray that the Holy Father still has many years in good health before him. Today, he is a shining example that age is not an impediment to good pastoral leadership, sharp intellect and good humour.
Photo credit: Reuters/Osservatore Romano