Pope Francis recently fueled speculation of his potential retirement by announcing that he would visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August to participate in a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs to resign his post prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013.
Italian and Catholic media alike have been rife with unsubstantiated speculation over whether the 85-year-old pope might be planning to follow in the steps of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Increasingly so, Pope Francis has been experiencing mobility problems that have become more and more visible as he has been forced to use a wheelchair on a daily basis for the last month, the Associated Press reported.
Rumors of the pope’s pending resignation intensified over the past week after Francis announced a consistory to create 21 new cardinals, 16 of whom are under the age of 80 and are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect the successor of Francis.
Once these cardinals are added to the franks of princes of the church, Francis will have stacked the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 cardinals who are of voting age. There is no guarantee how these cardinals will vote but the chances they will select a successor who will share Francis’s pastoral priorities is significant.
Along with announcing the new consistory, Francis also announced that he would host two days of talks in the late Summer to brief the new cardinals about his recent apostolic constitution that reformed the Vatican bureaucracy. Francis’s new directive allows women to head Vatican offices, imposes term limits on priestly Vatican employees, and emphasizes that positions in the Holy See serve as institutions in the service of local churches rather than vice versa.
In 2013, Francis was elected pope on a mandate to reform the Roman Curia. Now that this project has largely been accomplished, Francis’s main task as pope has been completed. Because of this, Francis announcing his pastoral visit to L’Aquila carries more speculative weight than it might otherwise have.
The basilica in L’Aquila hosts the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope who resigned after five months in 1294. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI visited L’Aquila after it had been devastated by an earthquake and prayed at the tomb of Celestine.
The Vatican announced on Saturday that Francis would visit L’Aquila to celebrate Mass on August 28 and open the “Holy Door” at the basilica which hosts Celestine’s tomb.