Pope Francis admitted on Saturday he needs to slow down and told reporters after a six-day trip to Canada that he can’t keep up with his pace of international travel – and may need to think about retiring.
“I don’t think I can go at the same pace as I used to,” said the 85-year-old pope, who has knee pain that makes him increasingly dependent on a wheelchair.
“I think at my age and with this disability I need to spare myself a little bit to be able to serve the church. Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside.”
It’s not the first time Francis has raised the possibility of following the example of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013 due to his own failing health and now lives peacefully in Vatican City.
In 2014, a year after his papacy, Francis told reporters that if his health got in the way of his position as pope, he would consider stepping down.
In May, as reported in the Italian media, Francis joked about his knee during a closed-door meeting with bishops, saying: “Instead of operating, I will resign.”
“The door is open, it is one of the normal options, but so far I have not knocked on this door,” he said on Saturday.
“But that doesn’t mean I won’t start thinking the day after tomorrow, right? But honestly not right now.
“Also this trip was kind of the test. It’s true that you can’t travel in this state, you might have to change the style a little bit, cut down, pay off the debts of the trips you still have to take, rearrange.
“But the Lord will tell. The door is open, that’s true.’
The comments come after intense speculation about Francis’ future, after he had to cancel a series of events due to his knee pain, including a trip to Africa planned earlier this month.
Talks were also sparked by his decision to convene an extraordinary consistory for August 27, a slow summer month in the Vatican, to create 21 new cardinals – 16 of whom will be under 80, making them eligible. come to choose his successor in a future conclave.
Benedict’s decision to quit sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church. He was the first pope to step down since the Middle Ages, but the precedent has now been set.
“In all honesty, it’s not a disaster, it’s possible to change popes, it’s possible to change, no problem! But I think I have to limit myself a bit with these efforts,” Francis said on Saturday.
He mostly used a wheelchair during his trip to Canada, where he historically apologized for decades of abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools run by the Catholic Church.
But he did get up in his “Pope mobile” to greet crowds.
Francis said surgery on his knee was not an option, adding that he was still feeling the effects of six hours of anesthesia last summer when he underwent surgery on his colon.
“You don’t play, you don’t mess around, with anesthesia,” he said.
But he added, “I’ll try to keep traveling and being close to people because I think it’s a way of service, closeness.”
Francis still hopes to move his postponed trip to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“But it will be next year, because of the rainy season – let’s see: I have all the good will, but let’s see what the leg says,” he joked.
The Argentine pope reiterated that he would like to visit war-torn Ukraine, but did not give details on the state of his plans.
He has another trip planned abroad for a religious convention in Kazakhstan in September.
“For now I would like to go: it is a quiet journey, without so much movement,” said the Pope.