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Pope hits 80

Pope Francis turns 80 on Saturday with no sign of slowing down in his drive to reshape the Catholic church to reflect his own vision of compassion and humility.

Three years and nine months after his election, the first pope from the Americas continues to set a relentless pace as he reaches a milestone at which cardinals are ushered into semi-retirement.

Francis has not ruled out following the historic example of his predecessor Benedict XVI, who retired, exhausted, in 2013.

But there is no suggestion that could happen soon.

Like almost every other day of his papacy, Saturday will be a working day for the holiday-phobic Francis: morning mass with cardinals followed by meetings with the Maltese president and a top Vatican official.

In the cerebral Benedict’s place, Francis has brought an upbeat Latin tempo, a strong work ethic and the asceticism of a Jesuit missionary to the role of leading the world’s largest church.

This will be the fourth birthday the former bishop of Buenos Aires has celebrated in the modest St Martha’s boarding house he has made his home inside the Vatican’s walls.

The world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are, by now, used to the face Francis displays to the world.

More often than not it is one lit up by a crinkly-eyed, double-chinned smile, at official audiences and meet-and-greets where he displays his ease with people from all walks of life.

There are signs of fatigue, natural for a man of his age who lost part of a lung in his youth, and the occasional grimace bears witness to the sciatic pain that is a near constant companion.

Sometimes his features darken, usually indicating he is addressing issues dear to his heart: Europe’s indifference to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, the humiliation of the poor or, most recently, the destructive power of agri-business.

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