Pope Francis says he may 'step aside' and retire, but only if it's God's will

Pope Francis departs after presiding over an evening prayer service at the Basilique-cathedral Notre-Dame in Quebec, Canada, on July 28, 2022. | LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking to journalists on a return flight from Canada, Pope Francis said he should slow down on his international travel and possibly consider retiring, but only if he discerns that it's God’s will.

“I think that at my age and with this limitation, I have to save myself a little bit to be able to serve the Church. Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside,” Francis told journalists during an in-flight press conference on his return flight from Iqaluit, Canada, on Saturday, AFP reported.

“The Lord will say” when it is time to retire, the 85-year-old pope added, according to Catholic News Agency. “The door is open. It’s one of the normal options, but up to today I haven’t knocked on that door.”

He clarified that he wasn’t actively thinking of retiring and that he was just open to it. “But maybe that doesn’t mean the day after tomorrow I will start thinking.”

As a Jesuit, the pope said he will rely on “discernment.”

The newswire said journalists asked the pope several times about the possibility of him resigning due to his health limitations. Francis has been suffering from knee pain and sometimes uses a wheelchair.

“Knee surgery is not planned in my case. The experts say yes, 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, you don't mess around with anesthesia,” he said.

Francis said he would still make efforts to travel so that he could be close to people “because I think it is a way of service.”

The pope added that he would “like to go to Ukraine” and is planning a trip to Kazakhstan in September to attend the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

His Q&A with reporters came after a week-long trip to Canada in which he traveled to Edmonton, Québec, and the city of Iqaluit in the Canadian territory of Nunavut on what he called a “penitential pilgrimage” to apologize to the country’s indigenous communities.

On Monday, Francis apologized for the alleged abuses at government-supported Catholic residential schools as he met with Native American tribal leaders. 

"I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry," he said. "I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the [Catholic] Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools."

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