Pope Francis has said that he can no longer travel like he used to because of his strained knee ligaments, saying his week-long Canadian pilgrimage was “a bit of a test” that showed he needed to slow down and one day possibly retire.
Speaking to reporters while traveling home from northern Nunavut, Francis, 85, stressed that he had not thought about resigning but said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.
“It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the pope,” he said.
“I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save[my energy] to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside,” he said.
It was not the first time Francis has said that – should his health require it – he could follow his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who made history in 2013 by stepping down due to declining physical and mental health.
Francis used a wheelchair, walker and cane to get around during his trip.
He strained his right knee ligaments earlier this year, and continuing laser and magnetic therapy forced him to cancel a trip to Africa that was scheduled for the first week of July.
The Canada trip was difficult, and featured several moments when Francis was clearly in pain as he manoeuvered getting up and down from chairs.
At the end of his six-day tour, he appeared in good spirits and energetic, despite a long day traveling to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to again apologise to Indigenous peoples for the injustices they suffered in Canada’s church-run residential schools.
Francis ruled out having surgery on his knee, saying it would not necessarily help and noting “there are still traces” from the effects of having undergone more than six hours of anesthesia in July 2021 to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine.
“I’ll try to continue to do the trips and be close to people because I think it’s a way of servicing, being close. But more than this, I can’t say,” he said on Saturday.
During his six-day “penitential pilgrimage” across Canada this week, the pope offered a historic apology to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, who have been waiting for years for such an acknowledgment from the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.
Aboard the papal plane, he used the word “genocide” to describe the decades of maltreatment and sexual abuse against Canada’s Indigenous children, who were wrenched from their families and cultures to attend state schools run by the Church.
“I didn’t say the word [in Canada] because it didn’t come to my mind, but I did describe the genocide. And I asked for forgiveness for this process which was genocide,” he told reporters.
Although Francis’s unprecedented apology was mostly welcomed across Canada,many survivors said much more needed to be done for reconciliation.
The trip to Canada was Francis’s 37th international voyage since becoming pope in 2013.