When he was elected in 2013 at the age of 76, Pope Francis was not expected to be a globe-trotting pope. After all, this was a man who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, traveled infrequently to Rome because he considered such trips an extravagance.
But in Panama last week, the pope logged his 26th foreign trip – and he shows no sign of slowing down. He plans to make four more trips before the middle of this year, including a February visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first by a pope to the Arab peninsula.
In the second half of 2019, the pope is said to be considering trips to Uganda, Mozambique and Japan.
Francis is putting on miles at a rate faster than any pope in history. Even Pope John Paul II, whose international travels turned the papacy into a global ministry, didn’t reach his 30th foreign trip until nearly eight years in office.
Most of Pope Francis’ trips have been outside Europe – meaning long-distance flights, jet lag and plenty of time for airborne press conferences.
Speaking to reporters on his first such trip in 2013, Francis seemed to accept international travel as part of the modern papal job description. He said John Paul II had made it clear that the pope must first of all be a “great missionary.”
“He was a missionary, a man who carried the Gospel everywhere, as you know better than I. How many trips did he make? But he went! He felt this fire of carrying forth the Word of the Lord. He was like Paul, like Saint Paul, he was such a man; for me this is something great,” Francis said.