Pope Francis, who has raised the possibility of retiring due to ill health, praised the humility of a 13th-century pontiff who was one of the few in history to resign rather than rule for life.
The announcement of the Roman Catholic church chief’s visit to L’Aquila, in the central Apennine mountains, had fueled speculation of a possible resignation announcement after 20 new cardinals were sworn in this weekend.
The city was largely destroyed by a 2009 earthquake that killed 305 people and is still being rebuilt. It is the burial place of Celestine V, who resigned as pope in 1294 after only five months to return to life as a hermit.
In his homily during a mass for thousands in a town square, Francis noted that in the Divine Comedy Dante had ridiculed Celestino for his cowardice in abdicating his papal role, referring to the decision as “the Great Refusal.”
Francis, who suffers from a painful knee problem and sciatica, came to the city’s basilica to pray at the tomb of Celestina in a wheelchair and was helped to his feet. He said that by relinquishing power, Celestine had shown the strength of her humility.
“In the eyes of men, the humble are seen as weak and losers, but in reality they are the true winners because they are the only ones who completely trust in the Lord and know his will,” the 85-year-old pope said. he said.
“Humility does not consist in devaluing oneself, but in that healthy realism that makes us recognize our potential and also our misery,” Francis said. He praised Celestine’s bravery because “no logic of power was able to imprison or handle him.”
Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff in some 600 years to resign voluntarily, visited L’Aquila four years before he resigned. In the past, Francis has also praised Benedict’s courage.
Francis has dismissed rumors that he himself plans to step down soon, but also insisted resignation must be an acceptable option for pontiffs who feel they can no longer adequately lead the world’s more than 1.3 billion Catholics.
He described how the helicopter that took him to L’Aquila on Sunday had to circle over the city in heavy fog before finally finding a space, saying it showed how people should take advantage of an “opening” when it comes.
Sixteen of the cardinals elected on Saturday would be eligible for the conclave of those who would be called upon to choose Francis’ successor, who under Vatican rules must be under 80 at the time of the vote, should he step down.
The new cardinals come from all corners of the world, including Brazil, Nigeria, Singapore and Timor-Leste.
The inductions mean that Francis chose 83 of the 132 cardinals qualified to elect a new pope, nearly two-thirds of the total and precisely the percentage needed for any proposed name to pass.
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