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Pope speaks about Benedict XVI, resignation, war, and more

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 12/13/23

In an interview for Mexican television the Pope fields questions on a range of topics, including his health and plans for the near future.
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In an interview with Mexican reporter Valentina Alazraki published by Noticieros Televisa on December 12, 2023, Pope Francis — visibly better from his recent health issues — spoke frankly on sometimes controversial topics.

Along with mentioning his plan to be buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Pope comments on the trials of old age, recognizing his recent health challenges. Alazraki reminds Pope Francis that at the start of his pontificate he wrote a letter of resignation he could use in case of need. In reply, Francis clarifies that he gave the letter to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then Secretary of State of the Holy See, so the Curia could use it in the event of a major impediment so as to avoid a prolonged vacancy of pontifical power.

He adds that he has not thought of resigning this year, but does not rule out the possibility of doing so at a later date. He recalls having admired how Benedict, “when he realized he couldn’t do it anymore, had the courage to say ‘enough.'” 

“I’m asking the Lord that I may say ‘enough’ at a certain point, but only when He wants me to,” he adds. 

The possibility of a pontiff suffering a coma or cognitive incapacity has been the subject of reflection by experts in canon law. Indeed, some Churches have experienced serious crises due to their leader’s inability to govern. This was notably the case of the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Merob II Mustafyan. He remained nominally in office from 2009 to 2016 despite an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, detected at just 53, which forced him to suspend the exercise of his functions.

Tribute to Benedict XVI

Pope Francis acknowledges that this first year without Benedict XVI, who died on December 31, 2022, was different than past years. He had a “very close” relationship with the Pope Emeritus, and liked to go and consult him.

“With great wisdom, he would give me his opinion, but he’d say, ‘But you decide,’ and leave it in my hands. He always helped me, was very generous in that,” says Francis. “He had this wisdom of doing things while giving freedom,” adds the Pope.

The Argentine Pontiff also explains that he was informed of his predecessor’s deteriorating state of health by a nurse he met by chance on December 28, 2022, before the general audience. This enabled him “to be able to say goodbye to him.”

“He was lucid, but already unable to speak, and he took my hand like this. It was a beautiful farewell,” says Francis, reiterating his admiration for Benedict XVI, “a great man; a humble, simple man.”

“I sometimes go to pray before the tombs of popes, and I go in front of his,” he assures us.

“Rethinking” his travels

The Pope also explains that his travels have to be “rethought,” taking into account his physical limitations, but without ruling out all trips to far-away locations. Without giving dates, the Pope reveals that for 2024, he has a trip scheduled to Belgium, and two others are on hold, “one to Polynesia and the other to Argentina.”

Without explicitly naming the new president, Javier Milei — who insulted him copiously during his very aggressive campaign — the Pope explains that “you have to distinguish a lot between what a politician says during the election campaign and what he is actually going to do afterwards, because afterwards comes the moment of concreteness, of decisions,” he specifies. This paves the way for a forthcoming meeting with the new president of his home country. 

The allusion to “Polynesia” could refer to the tour of Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea he has been planning since 2020. However he may be thinking of a symbolic trip to a state threatened by global warming, such as Tonga, a small country for which he has created a cardinal. 

A hard line

Asked by Valentina Alazraki about his “tougher” methods of government since the death of his predecessor, the Pope says he believes that sometimes some people need more strict treatment. He compares it to a father who needs to punish his children from time to time, or else fall short of his duties; “Sometimes a little reprimand is needed.”

The Pope admits to being “complicated and sometimes a little impatient,” but he assures the reporter that there are many good people within the Curia, and that he treats them less harshly than at the start of his pontificate.

“Grandparents also become kinder; it’s part of the aging process,” explains the Pope.

Wars and the migration crisis

Asked about the challenges to peace, Pope Francis says he is saddened to see that public opinion has become accustomed to news of the war in Ukraine as if it were “our daily latte.” He also mentions that he receives daily news on the telephone from the parish in Gaza, where 600 people are trying to survive. 

Francis once again stresses the moral imperative of supporting migrants.

“Jesus was a migrant,” says the Pope, mentioning that he too is himself “the son of migrants.” Welcoming, accompany, and integrating migrants is therefore a “human and Christian law,” he stresses. 

The Pope, who was broadcast on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also emphasizes the importance of his devotion to Mary, explaining that “the Lord has been great with us in giving us a mother like this.” He reminds us that devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has a special “flavor” for him, as this mixed-race image resonates with “Latin American identity” and is a model of inculturation.

Pope Benedict XVIPope Francis
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