VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As the new year begins, Pope Francis will be the oldest reigning pope since the early 1900s and the third oldest in history.

Having celebrated his 87th birthday in mid-December, Pope Francis’ initial calendar for 2024 had just the essentials.

Pope Francis blows out the candles on his birthday cake in this file photo from an audience with children assisted by the Vatican’s pediatric clinic in the Paul VI Audience Hall Dec. 17, 2023, his 87th birthday. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

A full slate of the usual papal liturgies and meetings are scheduled; bishops will continue making “ad limina” visits; Argentina will have its first female saint; the Synod of Bishops on synodality will conclude in October; and the jubilee year opens at the year’s end.

While doctors convinced the pope to cancel his scheduled trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December, he has continued to speak confidently about at least three countries he has on his wish-list for papal trips in 2024.

The pope told the Mexican news outlet N+ that a trip to Belgium is already “certain” and that two others, to Polynesia and Argentina, are being looked into. He did add that any long-distance trips would have to be “rethought” because of his age. Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis has not returned to his native country since his election, nearly 11 years ago.

Belgium, which is just a two-hour flight away, would most likely be a one- or two-day trip to mark the founding of the oldest Catholic university still in existence in the world, the Catholic University of Leuven, which celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2025.

The only other trip local bishops have confirmed is to the Italian city of Verona May 18, 2024, to take part in Italy’s annual Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

January will usher in several traditional papal liturgies starting with welcoming the new year with Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, followed by Mass on the Epiphany Jan. 6 and then Mass on the feast Baptism of the Lord Jan. 7 with the baptism of several infants.

The rest of the month includes the usual annual encounters with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican Jan. 8 and meetings with the staff of the office responsible for public security at the Vatican, as well as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25, concluding with an evening prayer service at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The new year also means a new round of “ad limina” visits by groups of bishops around the world. Bishops had made the visits every five years, but the interval has grown over time to be about every nine to 10 years. Bishops from the African continent will be finishing up their visits in 2024, and those next in line include bishops from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Greece, the Koreas and Japan. Their last ad limina visits were in 2015.

The pope is scheduled to meet with his international Council of Cardinals in February. Those meetings are usually held quarterly and on-going topics of discussion include: the “feminine dimension of the church,” the synod on synodality and safeguarding minors.

It is difficult to predict if or when there will be any consistories to create new cardinals in 2024. Pope Francis has made it an almost annual event, but when he handed out red hats in September 2023, he brought the number of cardinal electors up to 137, well above the limit of 120 and the highest number since St. John Paul II raised it to 135 in 2003.

Barring any deaths, the number of cardinal electors should be 132 starting in January, then down to 125 by June and 119 by December as some cardinals turn 80 and are no longer eligible to vote in a conclave. Those approaching the cutoff include U.S. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, who celebrates his 80th birthday June 29.

For beatifications and canonizations, so far there is only one on the papal calendar for 2024.

Pope Francis recently authorized the canonization of Blessed María Antonia de San José for Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. An 18th-century Catholic laywoman who championed the Ignatian spiritual exercises in Argentina after the Jesuits were expelled, she will be the first female of Argentina to be canonized.

Pope Francis had wanted to go to Argentina to beatify “Mama Antula” in 2016 in Buenos Aires, where she is buried, but he could not fit the trip in because of other travel obligations. Announcing the date for her canonization, the Vatican did not specify where the ceremony would take place, so if the pope can travel back to his home country in 2024, this could be one of the highlights.

The 11th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election is March 13, falling in the middle of Lent, which begins Feb. 14 and ends March 28. Holy Week will be busy with the usual slate of papal rites and ceremonies starting with Palm Sunday and its solemn ceremonial procession in St. Peter’s Square March 24 and culminating with the celebration of Easter March 31.

Among the nearly dozen “World Days” marked by the universal church that come with a dedicated papal message, Pope Francis recently announced the first World Children’s Day would be celebrated in Rome May 25-26.

The second assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will be held at the Vatican in October, formally concluding a worldwide process that began in October 2021. While no actual dates have been announced, there was a motion at the end of the first assembly to make it three weeks instead of four.

Then just as 2024 draws to a close, the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica will be opened Dec. 24 for the start of the Holy Year 2025. The other major basilicas of Rome also have Holy Doors, bricked up most of the time, which will be opened for the jubilee year.

The jubilee, usually held every 25 years, features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.