The Rev. Julio Muñoz Cuesta, who at 100 years of age continues saying Mass and hearing confessions at the Basilica of Talavera de la Reina, recalls the old days when to reach many small villages of the region he had to ride a burro.

The priest said in an interview with Efe that what most marked his life was Spain's 1936-1939 civil war, during which he fought on Francisco Franco's side with a sappers unit.

He once saw death come close when a bomb exploded not far from his head.

From the trenches he entered the priesthood. He was ordained in 1941 at a village of Toledo province with another 11 seminarians in the "first crop of priests after the civil war," he recalls with nostalgia.

During those first years he was appointed to various municipalities in central Spain whose small, isolated villages had no roads, so that getting to them meant riding a bicycle or sometimes a burro.

When he retired, the church offered him the chance to do volunteer work for the Basilica of Talavera de la Reina.

Father Julio has lived through 10 papacies, though he believes none was quite like that of John Paul II, "who has led the Catholic Church and Christian religions better than any other."

After 72 years in the priesthood, he feels he still has the strength to continue his work, but to walk, he says, he needs a cane because his legs are beginning to give out.

On Friday he will celebrate his 100th birthday with his companions at the priests' house in Talavera de la Reina.

Father Julio has two brothers and two sisters. The youngest sister is about to turn 90 and the eldest sister is 103, so that everything indicates he has time to grant absolution for many more sins in the confessional. EFE