Pope Francis
Pope Francis has his skull cap removed by a child during an audience with children in the VaticanReuters/GIAMPIERO

Talking to a group of journalists onboard the papal plane, Pope Francis indicated that he may have only "two or three years" to live and hinted that he is considering an early retirement.

The 77-year-old pontiff made the statement while talking to the media about his popularity, on a flight back to the Vatican from South Korea. Surprisingly he is said to have been standing the whole time during his journey back to Rome. 

"I see it as the generosity of the people of God. I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, not to become proud. Because I know it will last only a short time. Two or three years and then I'll be off to the Father's House," AFP reported.

The Guardian report noted that the Pope made a chopping gesture with his hand and whistled after making the statement, as if to convey that death comes sooner or later to everyone.

The Argentine Pope also noted that he has learned to handle the popularity "more naturally" these days. At first it had "scared me a little" he said.

Though Pope Francis has not given any exact date or time for his death, this would be the first time that a Pope has publically discussed his own death.

The AFP report citing a Vatican source stated that Pope Francis had previously also told those close to him that he thought he only had a few years left.

Pope Francis also suggested that resigning was a possibility "even if it does not appeal to some theologians", he told reporters.

He added that 60 years ago it was practically unheard of Catholic bishops retiring, but nowadays it was common. "Benedict XVI opened a door," he said.

He admitted that he had "some nerve problems", which required treatment. "Now I have to be more prudent, you are right," he told a reporter, who said that Vatican had cancelled several events at the last minute in the past few months.

Poking fun at himself, the Pope said that his custom of not taking vacations outside the Vatican was one of his "neuroses".

"One of these neuroses is that I'm too much of a homebody," he added, recalling that the last vacation he'd taken outside of his native Argentina was "with the Jesuit community in 1975". He said he had slowed down for the summer by reading more, sleeping more, and listening to music.

"Must treat them well, these nerves, give them mate (an Argentine stimulant tea) every day," he joked.