By Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — Pope Francis told reporters on his return flight from a lengthy 6-day trip to Canada that his ongoing health troubles, including osteoarthritis of the knee, could force him to slow down, at least in terms of international travel.
However, his busy fall schedule doesn’t appear to include much room for downtime.
After his July 24-30 visit to Canada to further efforts toward healing and reconciliation with the country’s indigenous communities, Pope Francis, on his return flight from Iqaluit, Nunavut, to Rome told his media entourage that “I don’t think I can go with the same pace of the trips as before.”
According to a transcript posted by Vatican News, the Vatican’s state-sponsored news agency, Pope Francis said that “at my age and with this limitation, I have to save [my energies up] a bit to be able to serve the Church or, on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside.”
Pope Francis said that, for the moment, resignation is not something he is considering, “But that doesn’t mean the day after tomorrow I don’t start thinking, right?”
“You can change a Pope, you can change, no problem! But I think I have to limit myself a bit with these efforts,” he said.
He indicated a willingness to continue international travel but said making intense trips like Canada in his condition is not possible, and “you have to maybe change the style a little bit, decrease, pay off the debts of the trips you still have to make.”
While this is not the first time Pope Francis has talked about resignation or indicated his willingness to step down from the papacy at some point in the future, it is the first time he’s admitted that his health is imposing limits on his office and the pace at which he does business.
Yet despite this acknowledgment, Pope Francis has a packed fall itinerary and some big decisions looming that are bound to keep him busy with travel and managing affairs at home.
Just this month, he is scheduled to preside over an 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 on March 19 and which went into force in June.
In between those two events, he will make a brief trip to the central Italian town of L’Aquila, where he will honor the victims of a devastating earthquake in 2009 that claimed 309 lives and the effects of which are still felt today.
While in L’Aquila, Pope Francis 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.
Benedict XVI famously visited L’Aquila in 2007, where he also prayed in front of Celestine’s tomb, leaving behind his priestly stole just a few years before announcing his own resignation from the papacy in 2013.
In September, Pope Francis will beatify Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I — colloquially known as “the Smiling Pope” — whose papacy lasted just 33 days.
He is also scheduled to attend an international interfaith summit in Kazakhstan later that month, where he could meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to discuss his ongoing concerns over the war in Ukraine. And, at the end of September, he will make back-to-back pastoral visits to the Italian cities of Assisi and Matera, on Sept. 24 and 25, respectively.
Pope Francis has also indicated a desire to visit Ukraine in a show of his concern for the war, and he has also pledged to reschedule his visit to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he was compelled to postpone earlier this summer due to his knee pains.
Speaking to journalists on his return flight from Canada, Pope Francis said he intends to go to South Sudan because that’s a trip with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of the Church of Scotland,” and is, therefore, an important commitment.
However, he indicated that the visit to Congo could now be up in the air, saying that if it happens, “that will have to be next year, because of the rainy season,” but he offered no guarantee. “We will have to see,” he said. “I have all the goodwill in the world, but let’s see what my leg says.”
Pope Francis also faces tough decisions on the home front as he continues the implementation of his curial reform and oversees the ongoing Trial of the Century, in which 10 people have been indicted for various financial crimes related to a London real estate deal gone horribly wrong.
So far, the trial has dragged on for over a year, and more than 200 witnesses have yet to take the stand. The process could take years to conclude, which could prove inconvenient for a pope intent on showing the world that he is cleaning house on the financial front.
The question then is how long will he let things drag on? Will he continue to let things take their course, or will he intervene in the process so that proceedings come to a more expedited end?
Time will tell, but decisions such as this and Pope Francis’ heavy schedule going into the fall mean he might not be able to scale back as much as desired, at least not initially.
While surgery to mend his knee is an option, Pope Francis has said that he will not undergo another surgery due to a bad reaction to anesthesia during his colon surgery last summer.
Going forward, then, he will likely have to be selective with his commitments and careful about the intensity of the events he does commit to. What that means in practice is something that remains to be seen, but for now, it seems that over the next few months, the “Energizer Bunny” of popes will be shifting into a different gear.