Why Pope Francis' Travel Schedule Has Him Thinking About Retirement

For most popes, it's a lifelong job. From the moment they step into the role, they're signing up for a position that they will have until the day they die. In fact, resignation is so rare that only seven popes have stepped down in the 2,000-plus years of the papal system (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Despite this, Pope Francis recently made it very clear that not only is there nothing wrong with a pope abdicating their role as head of the Catholic Church, but he just might have retirement on his mind too. After a weeklong pilgrimage in Canada, 85-year-old Pope Francis admitted that traveling isn't as easy as it used to be for him, telling reporters on the papal plane, "It's not strange. It's not a catastrophe. You can change the pope," according to NBC.

Since his inauguration, this was Pope Francis' first time using a wheelchair as well as a walker and cane to get around, making the pope realize it might be time for him to slow down a bit (via NPR).

Getting around has become increasingly difficult

While 2020 kept Pope Francis at home like the rest of the world, both before and after that, he's been a very hands-on pope in his traveling and reaching out to his followers. Not only has he already been to 50 countries since 2013, but in 2019 alone he visited 11 countries — quite a lot for a man over 80 years of age (via Catholic News Agency).

The pope was scheduled to head to Africa in early July of this summer, but the knee ligaments he had strained earlier this year caused him to cancel the trip. However, he kept his trip to Canada on the calendar so he could personally apologize for the injustices that were brought upon the Indigenous people of the country by the Catholic Church (via The Guardian). Unfortunately, the six-day tour proved too much for Pope Francis as he realized he could no longer travel without some sort of walking assistance.

The trip to Canada was a test

Aware of his limitations, Pope Francis admitted that this past trip was a "test" to see just how much his body can handle at this stage in his life. What he discovered is that it's time to step back and save his energy so he can best serve the church — or, if he feels he can no longer do that adequately, the "door is open" to the possibility that he'll resign from his position (via The Washington Post).

Unlike popes of the past who may have ignored their health, Pope Francis has proven to be a bit more open-minded than his predecessors. He even went so far as to say that atheists don't have to believe in God to go to heaven — a statement that no other pope would have dared to utter (via Independent).

Pope Francis' acknowledgment of his mortality, as well as his willingness to buck a papal system that basically says a pope is a pope until they die, is refreshing. Although he hasn't confirmed if and when his retirement will take place, just saying it could happen is a big step in admitting that at some point you just can't do it anymore — even if you are the pope.