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A year of health challengers, travel and the synod:  the Holy Father in 2023

Pope Francis greets new Ambassadors of Belize, Bahamas, Thailand,, Norway, Mongolia, Niger, Uganda, Sudan to the Holy See (Vatican Media/Vatican News)

Pope Francis experienced health challenges, important trips that were either accomplished or postponed and made a call to the world to act on climate change and to the Catholic Church to strengthen its mission by learning “synodality,” among others, in 2023.

At age 87, Pope Francis is the oldest reigning pope in the last 120 years.  The last pope to serve at his age was Pope Leo XIII, who died at the age of 93 in 1903. 

Pope Francis began the year 2023 by mourning Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013 and died on December 31, 2022.

The first of five overseas trips he made took him to the Congo and then on an ecumenical peace mission to South Sudan.

Pope Francis spent nine days in Rome’s Gemelli hospital in June after undergoing a three-hour surgery to repair a hernia. Surgeons also removed several adhesions or bands of scar tissue that had formed after previous surgeries decades ago.

Even though he was fit to travel in 2023, photos taken at his residence often showed him using a walker. He would be pushed in a wheelchair to his place when celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and use a silver cane on days when his knees were not so painful.

He had a bronchial infection, which caused the cancellation of his trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in early December for COP28, which could have made him the first pope to attend a United Nations climate change summit.

He told the world leaders that the destruction of the environment is “a sin” that not only “greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable.”

Prior to COP28, Pope Francis issued Laudate Deum [Praise God], a follow-up document to his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.

Pope Francis was able to participate in the World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, in August and the first assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality on October 4–29.

He would always say that in the Church there is room for “everyone.” The Church is a place for “righteous and sinners, good and bad, everyone, everyone, everyone,” he also told Portuguese bishops, priests and pastoral workers.

He described the Synod of Bishops as having resulted in positive outputs. “Everything was discussed with full freedom, and this is a beautiful thing,” said the Holy Father.

On welcoming gay Catholics, he said that within the Church, everyone grows and matures in their Christian belonging.

His key hope for the synod, which will meet again in October 2024: “The Lord will guide us and help us to be a more synodal and missionary Church, a Church that adores God and serves the women and men of our time, going forth to bring to everyone the consoling joy of the gospel.”

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals from 16 nations days before the synod opened.

On December 12, he told a Mexican journalist that he feels “quite well” physically and that his health continues to improve. But he added that he still needs people to pray for his health. (MTV)


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.