So on the flight back to Rome, Francis said he concluded he needed to slow down. He said his style should change a bit. He even said that the “door is open” to retirement, even if nothing is imminent.
“I don’t think I can keep up with the same pace of travel as before,” Francis said, leading his press conference aboard the papal plane from a seat. “I think at my age and with this limitation, I have to save [my energies up] a little to be able to serve the church or, on the contrary, to think about the possibility of stepping aside. I say that in all honesty. It’s not a disaster. It is possible to change pope.
He said it was a “normal option” to think about retirement. This echoed other comments in which he said he would be willing to resign if his health made running the church impossible.
But so far, Francis said, he hasn’t reached that point.
“That doesn’t mean the day after tomorrow I won’t start thinking [about it]right?” said Francois. “But at the moment, honestly, I don’t.”
During his six days in Canada, Francis experienced both toughness and fragility. Despite all the jet lag, he regularly delivered one speech after the next and enjoyed moments of clear levity – like when he called for a detour from his wheelchair to be closer to a crowd outside a church.
But he also had to deal with very different limitations from previous years of his papacy. While visiting an Indigenous community in the plains of Alberta, where he apologized for the brutality of Canada’s residential school system, he was led to the edge of a wooden path leading to a cemetery. But he couldn’t move among the tombstones, which were all on the grass.
Although he was in fairly good health for much of his papacy, Francis over the past year and a half has struggled with painful bouts of sciatica, had colon surgery and, more recently, has suffered knee inflammation that left him largely dependent on a wheelchair. The lost mobility forced him to reconsider his practical style as pope. On several occasions before his trip to Canada, he lamented his inability to mingle with the crowds of pilgrims as he had done before.
Is Pope Francis nearing the end of his pontificate?
And that’s just one of the ways his pontificate has changed. It no longer has the rock star that follows or draws huge crowds. His stories lack the novelty of previous years – including in press conferences, where he keeps surprises to a minimum. But on some topics, like aging, his words carry more weight than ever. Many of his prepared remarks touch on the value of older people, and it’s left to interpretation how much his sentiment reflects personal experience.
“It warms my heart to see so many grandparents and great-grandparents here,” Francis said at some point during his time in Canada. “I thank you and would like to say to all those families who have elderly people at home: you have a treasure! Keep this source of life in your homes. Take care of it as a precious heirloom to love and cherish.
In Canada, the organizers shaped the route to meet its limitations. He moved to and from the papal plane on a platform-like lift. He spoke sitting down. The trip had a slower pace than previous tours – with two events most days rather than four or five.
“I don’t think I can continue with the same pace of travel as before,” the pope said.
In Canada, Francis asked for forgiveness — personally and on behalf of “many” in the Catholic Church — for the Church’s involvement in one of Canada’s greatest traumas: the residential schools that sought to forcibly assimilate indigenous children to Euro-Christian society. Francis’ trip broke the standards of papal travel because it was openly intended for penance and not evangelism.
Francis said he would continue to travel. Although he had to cancel an earlier trip in July to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan due to treatment for his knee, he has a series of short trips to Italy in the coming weeks and he must go to Kazakhstan in September. . François also mentioned the possibility of trying once more to go to the Congo.
“It will be next year,” he said.