Rome, Italyâ€” Pope Francis added fuel to rumors about the future of his pontificate by announcing he would visit the central Italian city of Lâ€™Aquila in August for a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs who resigned before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013.
and Catholic media have been rife with unsourced speculation that the
85-year-old Francis might be planning to follow in Benedict’s footsteps, given
his increased mobility problems that have forced him to use a wheelchair for
the last month.
rumors gained steam last week when Francis announced a consistory to create 21
new cardinals scheduled for Aug. 27. Sixteen of those cardinals are under age
80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis’ successor.
they are added to the ranks of princes of the church, Francis will have stacked
the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 voting-age cardinals. While there
is no guarantee how the cardinals might vote, the chances that they will tap a
successor who shares Francis’ pastoral priorities become ever greater.
announcing the Aug. 27 consistory, Francis also announced he would host two
days of talks the following week to brief the cardinals about his recent
apostolic constitution reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. That document, which
goes into effect Sunday, allows women to head Vatican offices, imposes term
limits on priestly Vatican employees and positions the Holy See as an
institution at the service of local churches, rather than vice versa.
was elected pope in 2013 on a mandate to reform the Roman Curia. Now that the
nine-year project has been rolled out and at least partially implemented,
Francis’ main task as pope has in some ways been accomplished.
which made Saturday’s otherwise routine announcement of a pastoral visit to
L’Aquila carry more speculative weight than it might otherwise have.
was the timing: The Vatican and the rest of Italy are usually on holiday in
August to mid-September, with all but essential business closed. Calling a
major consistory in late August to create new cardinals, gathering churchmen
for two days of talks on implementing his reform and making a symbolically
significant pastoral visit suggests Francis might have out-of-the-ordinary
business in mind.
today’s news that @Pontifex will go to L’Aquila in the very middle of the
August consistory, it all got even more intriguing,” tweeted Vatican
commentator Robert Mickens, linking to an essay he had published in La Croix
International about the rumors swirling around the future of the pontificate.
basilica in L’Aquila hosts the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope who resigned
after five months in 1294, overwhelmed by the job. In 2009, Benedict visited L’Aquila,
which had been devastated by a recent earthquake and prayed at Celestine’s
tomb, leaving his pallium stole on it.
at the time appreciated the significance of the gesture. But four years later,
the 85-year-old Benedict would follow in Celestine’s footsteps and resign,
saying he no longer had the strength of body and mind to carry on the rigors of
Vatican announced Saturday Francis would visit L’Aquila to celebrate Mass on
Aug. 28 and open the “Holy Door” at the basilica hosting Celestine’s tomb. The
timing coincides with the L’Aquila church’s celebration of the Feast of
Forgiveness, which was created by Celestine in a papal bull.
has travelled to L’Aquila since to close out the annual feast, which celebrates
the sacrament of forgiveness so dear to Francis, noted the current archbishop
of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi.
that all people, especially those harmed by conflicts and internal divisions,
might (come) and find the path of solidarity and peace,” he said in a statement
announcing the visit.
has praised Benedict’s decision to retire as “opening the door” for future
popes to do the same, and he had originally predicted a short papacy for
himself of two to five years.
years later, Francis has shown no signs he wants to step down, and he has major
projects still on the horizon.
addition to upcoming trips this year to Congo, South Sudan, Canada and
Kazakhstan, in 2023 he has scheduled a major meeting of the world’s bishops to
debate the increasing decentralization of the Catholic Church, as well as the
continued implementation of his reforms.
Francis has been hobbled by the strained ligaments in his right knee that have
made walking painful and difficult. He has told friends he doesn’t want to
undergo surgery, reportedly because of his reaction to anesthesia last July
when he had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed.
week, one of his closest advisers and friends, Honduran Cardinal Oscar
Rodriguez Maradiaga, said talk of a papal resignation or the end of Francis’
pontificate was unfounded.
these are optical illusions, cerebral illusions,” Maradiaga told Religion
Digital, a Spanish-language Catholic site.
Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, noted
that most Vatican watchers expect Francis will eventually resign, but not
before Benedict dies. The 95-year-old retired pope is physically frail but
still alert and receiving occasional visitors in his home in the Vatican
not going to have two former popes floating around,” Bellitto said in an email.
Referring to Francis’ planned visit to L’Aquila, he suggested not reading too
much into it, noting that Benedict’s gesture in 2009 was missed by most
recall a lot of stories at the time saying that Benedict’s visit in 2009 made
us think he was going to resign,” he said, suggesting that Francis’ pastoral
visit to l’Aquila might be just that: a pastoral visit.