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Pope Francis hasn’t considered retiring, but after his physical struggles on his latest apostolic journey, the pontiff has made clear he reserves the right to step down.
Pope Francis fielded questions from reporters Saturday following his historic visit to Canada to promote fraternity with Catholic indigenous people in the nation. He was forced to conduct the interview from a wheelchair, which he utilized frequently in Canada.
Asked repeatedly by press if he planned on stepping down, the pontiff said he still has not considered retirement, but that Canada was a “test” of his vitality that showed he is slowing down.
“Whatever the Lord says,” Pope Francis told a French reporter. “The Lord can tell me to resign. It is the Lord who commands.”
The pontiff reflected, “I think that at my age and with this limitation I have to cut back a little bit to be able to serve the Church or on the contrary think about the possibility of stepping aside,”
The remark is notable as Pope Francis has thus far denied having ever considered retirement — popes traditionally serve until their death on the throne. With Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI still alive and living in a converted monastery within the walls of Vatican City, Pope Francis stepping down would set the stage for three “popes” living in the Vatican at once.
However, Pope Francis appears to be trying to prevent such a situation, continuing in his duties despite needing extensive surgery.
“Knee surgery is not planned in my case. The experts say yes, but there is the whole problem of anesthesia. Ten months ago I underwent more than six hours of anesthesia and there are still traces. You don’t play, you don’t mess around with anesthesia,” the said during the press conference.
In a meeting last month with over a dozen Catholic bishops visiting the Vatican from Brazil, Pope Francis discussed his health and plans for the future of his reign.
The pope told visiting Archbishop Roque Paloschi that resigning from the Holy See “does not cross his mind,” according to the Portuguese edition of the Vatican’s official news service.
However, the pope did not feign great health, reportedly telling the bishops that he was facing many challenges, but that he wished to live the life God gave him until the end.
Last July, the pope underwent surgery on his colon and was hospitalized for almost two weeks. Since the operation, the pontiff has regularly complained of knee pain and other side effects that make mobility and physical exertion difficult.
The pope, 85, has revisited the topic of old age and deterioration many times in recent years. His lessons and comments on the reality of growing old — often optimistic in nature — have taken on new potency as the pontiff struggles through a series of health concerns while continuing his physically demanding work.