International News

Busy Schedule Hints that Pope Francis Isn’t Winding Down, He’s Cranking Up

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Malta to Rome April 3, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

By Elise Ann Allen, Senior Correspondent

ROME (Crux) — For months, rumors have circulated that Pope Francis could be set to resign later this summer, at least in part due to his ongoing health struggles. However, comments from both Pope Francis and his top aides suggest that rather than winding down, his schedule is actually picking up.

Pope Francis in recent months has largely been confined to a wheelchair due to knee pain, which caused him to postpone a planned visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan earlier this month.

Shortly after he began using a wheelchair, Pope Francis announced the unusual move of holding a consistory for the creation of new cardinals in August. In the middle of that consistory, he is scheduled to make a day trip to L’Aquila in central Italy, where Pope Celestine V — the last Pope to resign before Benedict XVI — is buried, and where Benedict visited in 2009, leaving his woolen pallium on Pope Celestine’s tomb.

Not only has Pope Francis denied any intention of resigning in a recent interview, but his summer and fall obligations also continue to pile up with foreign trips and major events.

In an interview with Reuters published last week, Pope Francis said his knee pain was due to “a small fracture” in his knee, after taking a small misstep while a ligament was inflamed, and that the thought of resignation “never entered my mind.”

On whether he was thinking about resigning, Pope Francis said, “For the moment no. Really. But the time will come when I see that I can’t do it.”

Some observers still wonder what Pope Francis’ true intentions are, yet one glance at his list of appointments this summer suggests that the possibility of a papal resignation is getting slimmer by the day.

In just two weeks, Pope Francis will make a July 24-29 trip to Canada, where he is expected to deliver a long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the historic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of children at church-run residential schools.

According to the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, it’s possible that after his return from Canada, Pope Francis could travel to Ukraine, visiting the capital city of Kyiv in a bid to support victims of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war.

Speaking to Italian television station Tg1, Archbishop Gallagher said, “I think that upon returning from Canada we will begin to really study the possibility.”

Asked whether the trip could happen in August, Archbishop Gallagher said, “I wouldn’t rule it out,” but insisted that “a lot depends on the results of the trip to Canada. Let’s see how Pope Francis will withstand this trip, which is also very demanding, and then we’ll see.”

In his interview with Reuters, Pope Francis said that if he goes to Ukraine, he wants “to go to Moscow first,” and that “now it’s possible, after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I will manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help, but I would like to go to both capitals.”

He is also set to preside over the Aug. 27 consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals, which will precede an Aug. 29-30 meeting of the world’s cardinals to study and reflect on the new Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium, promulgated March 19 and which went into force June 5.

In between those two meetings, Pope Francis will squeeze in an Aug. 28 day trip to the central Italian town of L’Aquila, about 75 miles north of Rome, where he will commemorate the victims of a devastating 2009 earthquake that claimed 309 lives and the effects of which are still felt today.

He will also visit the tomb of Pope Celestine V to observe the annual Perdonanza Celestiniana (Celestinian Pardon), a jubilee instituted by Celestine in 1294, and one of the pontiff’s only enduring legacies, beyond his resignation from the papacy.

In September, Pope Francis is set to beatify Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I — “the Smiling Pope” — whose papacy lasted a brief 33 days.

The Vatican has also announced plans for the pope to visit Kazakhstan for the Sept. 14-15 “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions,” an international interfaith summit, where he could end up meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who is also expected to attend.

In his interview with Tg1, Archbishop Gallagher indicated that a meeting between the two is not only possible but likely, saying that if both Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill show up for the event in Kazakhstan, “then yes, there will be a meeting. We must try to overcome difficulties and misunderstandings for the unity of the church.”

Later in September, Pope Francis is scheduled to make back-to-back pastoral visits to the Italian cities of Assisi and Matera.

Pope Francis is set to visit Assisi Sept. 24, where he will attend a meeting of young entrepreneurs titled “The Economy of Francis” at a conference hall located near Assisi’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.

On the following day, Sept. 25, Pope Francis will fly by helicopter to the southern city of Matera to preside over the closing Mass of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress after meeting with a group of migrants and refugees. He will then bless and open a new soup kitchen.

The fact that Pope Francis is not only planning a series of foreign trips stretching into the fall, but that he is also scheduled to preside over a major beatification ceremony for a predecessor whose cause he green-lighted, would indicate that regardless of whatever troubles his knee is giving him, he probably intends to stay in office for some time.