Pope Francis said he reflects on the hour when the Lord will call him to step down, saying he asks God for the grace to do so like Saint Paul, with strength, love, and faith.
When I read about St. Paul bidding farewell to the church at Ephesus, I think about myself, he said during his morning homily in the Vatican Tuesday, “because I am a bishop and I must take my leave and step down.”
News outlets immediately began suggesting that the pope was “hinting” at his own possible retirement from the papacy.
“In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles,” said the pontiff, “we have heard Paul’s farewell, the farewell of an apostle, the farewell of the bishop: it is a strong step, a step that reaches the heart. But It is also a step that makes us see the path for each bishop at the hour to step down.”
Continuing his reflection, the pope said that Saint Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit to leave for Jerusalem. Like Paul, he said, the bishop must make an examination of conscience and know how to discern the Spirit of God who speaks.
“I am thinking of all bishops,” he said. “May the Lord grant all of us the grace to be able to take our leave and step down in this way (like Paul), with that spirit, with that strength, with that love for Jesus Christ and this faith in the Holy Spirit.”
“So let us pray for all bishops,” he said, “so that that take this same path of Paul’s to be able to leave such a witness in the end.”
Bishops of the Catholic Church are required to present their resignation on reaching the age of 75, while the bishop of Rome—the pope—is exempt from this requirement.
Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’s predecessor, became the first pope to resign in over 700 years when he stepped down in 2013, a move that Francis praised as “beautiful gesture of nobility, of humility and courage.”
During an in-flight interview in 2014, Francis suggested he did not think his pontificate would be a long one.
“I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, so as not to think that I am somebody,” he said. “Because I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father.”
Francis also said he would not be averse to stepping down if he was no longer able to fulfil his duties.
“I think that the emeritus pope is already an institution because our life gets longer and at a certain age there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired, and maybe one’s health is good but there isn’t the capacity to carry forward all the problems of a government like that of the Church,” he said.
“I would do the same,” he added. “I would pray, but I would do the same. He (Benedict) opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.”
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