Pope Francis acknowledged he needed to slow down, telling reporters after a six-day trip to Canada that he couldn’t maintain the pace of international travel – and might have to consider retirement.
“I don’t think I can travel as fast as I used to,” said the 85-year-old pope, whose knee pain has made him increasingly dependent on a wheelchair.
“I think that at my age and with this restriction, I should save myself a bit to be able to serve the church. Or, alternatively, I’m considering the possibility of stepping aside.”
This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has raised the possibility of following the example set by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned due to poor health in 2013 and now lives quietly in Vatican City.
In 2014, a year into his papal mandate, Pope Francis told reporters that if his health hampered the performance of his duties as pope, he would consider stepping down.
“The door is open, it’s one of the normal options, but so far I haven’t knocked on that door,” he said on Saturday.
“But that doesn’t mean that the day after tomorrow I won’t start thinking, does it? But right now I’m honestly not thinking.
“This trip was also a little bit of a test. It’s true that you can’t take trips in that case, you probably have to change the pattern a little bit, reduce, pay off the debts of trips you still have to take, and rearrange.
“But the Lord will say. The door is open, that’s right.”
I will try to continue on trips and be close to people, because I think it is a way of service and closeness.
The comments come after intense speculation about the future of Pope Francis, after he was forced to cancel a series of events due to his knee pain including a trip to Africa that was scheduled for earlier this month.
The speech was also prompted by his decision to summon an extraordinary council on August 27, a slow summer month in the Vatican, to create 21 new cardinals—16 of whom would be under the age of 80, and thus eligible to elect his successor in a future concave.
Pope Benedict’s decision to resign shocked the Catholic Church. He was the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages, but the precedent is now set.
“In all honesty, this is not a disaster, it is possible to change the pope, it is possible to change, no problem! But I think I should limit myself a little to these efforts,” Pope Francis said on Saturday.
He mostly used a wheelchair during his trip to Canada, where he made a landmark apology for decades of abusing Aboriginal children in Catholic-run boarding schools.
But he stood in his “popemobile” to greet the crowds.
Pope Francis said surgery to his knee was not an option, adding that he was still feeling the effects of the six hours he spent under sedation last summer, when he underwent colon surgery.
“You don’t play, you don’t mess around,” he said, “with anesthesia.”
But, he added, “I will try to keep on trips and be close to people, because I think it’s a way of service, an affinity.”
Pope Francis recently took a six-day trip to Canada. attributed to him: Vatican Media / EPA
Pope Francis is still hoping to reschedule his postponed trip to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“But that will be next year, because of the rainy season – let’s see: I have all good intentions, but let’s see what the leg says,” he said sarcastically.
The Argentine pope reiterated that he would like to visit war-torn Ukraine, but did not provide any details on the status of his plans.
He has another overseas trip planned for a religious conference in Kazakhstan in September.
“For now, I would like to go: it is a quiet ride, without much movement,” said the Pope.