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RELIGION > Pope turns 85, oldest pontiff in a century

VATICAN CITY - Agence France-Presse

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Children dressed in the traditional Bavarian costumes dance for Pope Beneditct XVI on the occasion of Pontiff's 85th birthday celebrations in the Clementine hall at the Vatican. AFP Photo

Children dressed in the traditional Bavarian costumes dance for Pope Beneditct XVI on the occasion of Pontiff's 85th birthday celebrations in the Clementine hall at the Vatican. AFP Photo

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 85th birthday Monday with visitors from his native state of Bavaria in Germany and is now the oldest pope since Leo XIII, who died in 1903 aged 93.

The pope began his birthday with mass in the frescoed Pauline Chapel in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace along with his 88-year-old brother Georg Ratzinger, himself a bishop and the pope's closest surviving relative.

The German pontiff has told his closest aides that he wants "no major celebrations" and prefers "a family celebration," the pope's personal secretary Georg Gaenswein said in an interview with the Italian weekly Gente.

"I ask you to pray for me, that the Lord may give me the strength to fulfil the mission that he has given me," the pope told pilgrims on Sunday.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope, who plans to visit Lebanon in September, was well though tired like other men his age.

In a book of interviews in 2010, Benedict aised the possibility that he could resign if he was no longer able to carry out his duties -- mindful perhaps of the long debilitating illness of his predecessor John Paul II, who died aged 84.

Benedict on Thursday also celebrates the seventh anniversary of his election.

April/16/2012

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