ROME (AP) — Pope Francis urged young people to lead the church's future Saturday even as he voiced doubts that he'd be around much longer to see it.
The 80-year-old pope referred to his own mortality twice in the span of a few minutes during a vigil service to rally enthusiasm for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.
"I don't know if it will be me, but the pope will be in Panama!" he told the crowd at the St. Mary Major basilica.
A few minutes earlier, he drew gasps from the pews when he teased: "At my age, we (old people) are about to pass away."
Sensing their pained reaction, he added: "Who guarantees life? No one. At your age, you have the future ahead of you."
Francis is known for his casual, self-deprecating remarks and has said repeatedly he didn't expect to be pope for very long. Early on in his four-year papacy he predicted two to five years would do it. He has also not ruled out the possibility of resigning like his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, did.
At the same time, there's nothing indicating that Francis is slowing down.
Later this month, he begins the first of his 2017 foreign travels that are expected to bring him to Egypt, Portugal, Colombia, India, Bangladesh and perhaps South Sudan. He is also gearing up for the next big meeting of the world's bishops this fall, dedicated to young people.
The Vatican has solicited direct input from young people to inform its work and participate in the synod. Francis took that request further Saturday, saying he wanted to involve not just dedicated Catholics but all young people, atheists included.
"The future is in your hands," he said.
The synod lets bishops make proposals to the pope that inform a future papal document. Francis' last synod on the family was highly divisive on the issues of marriage, divorce and access to the sacraments.
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