The journalists on the Pope’s flight from Canada to Rome were intent on talking about a possible papal retirement, with more than one question asked on the issue. Pope Francis has always said it’s a possibility, with Benedict XVI having paved the way for what Francis considers will be a new normal in the Church.
But as for his own personal retirement, it’s not yet on the radar, he said, though it could be.
Asked about the difficulties of traveling, the Pope acknowledged that it’s not easy:
I have to spare myself a bit, to be able to serve the Church. But, on the other hand, I can also think about the possibility of stepping aside. With all honesty, this is not a catastrophe, it is possible to change pope, it is possible to change, there is no problem! But I think I have to limit myself a bit with these exertions.
The main limiting factor for Pope Francis is his knee, which significantly limits his mobility and forces him to use a wheelchair for anything beyond a few steps.
He reiterated that surgery isn’t an option for him, not because of the knee, but because he doesn’t want to undergo anesthesia. For older adults, general anesthesia is seen as a risk for cognitive decline.
Knee surgery for me is not an option in my case. The health care professionals say it is, 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 around, you don’t mess around, with anesthesia. And that’s why I think it is not entirely suitable. I will continue to make trips and be close to the people, because I think closeness is the way to serve. Beyond that, I do not have anything else to say.
Nevertheless, another question pressed the issue in light of Jesuit practice, leading the Pope to explain how a Jesuit principle will guide him.
Whatever the Lord says. The Lord might say resign. The Lord is in charge.
One thing that is important about St. Ignatius: St. Ignatius would dispense someone who was tired or ill from prayer, but would never dispense anyone from the examination of conscience. Twice a day, to look at what has happened in my heart today.
Not [to list] sins or no sins, but what spirit moved me today. Our vocation is to look for what happened today. If I – this is a hypothesis – see that the Lord is telling me something, that something happened to me, that I have an inspiration, I have to discern to see what the Lord is asking. It may also be that the Lord wants to send me to the corner. He is in charge.
This is the religious way of life of a Jesuit, to be in spiritual discernment to make decisions, to choose a path of work, of commitment as well… Discernment is the key to the Jesuit’s vocation. This is important. In this area, St. Ignatius was really an expert, because it was his own experience of spiritual discernment that brought him to conversion. And the spiritual exercises are truly a school of discernment.
So the Jesuit, by vocation, must be a man of discernment: discerning situations, discerning his own conscience, discerning the decisions to be made. For this reason, being open to whatever the Lord asks of him, is kind of our spirituality.
Yet another journalist insisted, taking the angle of what a possible successor to Pope Francis would be like.
The Pope responded that that’s not for him to worry about, as Someone else takes care of that:
I would never dare to think [about that]… The Holy Spirit knows how to do this better than me, better than all of us. Because He inspires the pope’s decisions, He always inspires. Because He is alive in the Church. The Church cannot be conceived without the Holy Spirit, He is the One who makes a difference. He also makes a racket – think of the morning of Pentecost – and then, He creates harmony.
When another journalist brought up the topic, albeit with apologies, the Holy Father reiterated that “the door is open.”
The door is open, it’s a natural option, but until today I haven’t knocked on that door. I haven’t said it’s going to go in that direction; I haven’t felt the need to think about this possibility. But that doesn’t mean that the day after tomorrow, I won’t start thinking about it, right? But right now, sincerely, I am not. This trip has also been a bit of a test… it is true that trips shouldn’t be taken in this condition; the style may have to be changed a bit, lessen them, pay off the debts of the trips that still have to be made, rearrange… But it will be the Lord who will say it. The door is open, that is true.