Pope Francis during the interview for N+ Pope Francis during the interview for N+ 

Pope: My health is better, I have no plans to resign

On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis grants an interview to journalist Valentina Alazraki for Mexican broadcaster N+.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Not so much a decision, much less a revolution, it is a promise Pope Francis made to the Virgin Mary: “I want to be buried in Santa Maria Maggiore. The place is already ready.”

Pope Francis, 87 years old next week, on 17 December, revealed his intention to Mexican broadcaster N+, while also explaining that he is working to simplify the funeral rite for popes. The Pope also made clear that, although he thinks about death – in part due to old age that “arrives as it is” – the idea of resigning is not at all in the plans.

On the contrary, the Holy Father reveals a desire to travel to Belgium in 2024, in addition to “pending” trips to Polynesia and his native Argentina.

Desire to be buried in Santa Maria Maggiore

The interview was conducted by well-known journalist Valentina Alazraki, a veteran Vatican watcher, on the day Mexico celebrates its “mother,” Our Lady of Guadalupe. The “Morenita” is indeed present throughout the interview, during which the Pope reiterates his “great devotion” to Our Lady. Hence, the choice of St. Mary Major as the place of his eventual burial.

The choice marks a historical novelty, especially with respect to the Popes of the recent past, all of whom were buried in the Vatican Grottoes (the last being Benedict XVI, who died on 31 December 2022). However, the decision to be buried in St Mary Major reinforces the bond with the Liberian Basilica, which the Pope has visited more than 100 times: beginning the day after his election, 14 March 2013; then before and after every international trip; and finally, last week, 8 December, when he went to pay homage with a “Golden Rose” offered to the Salus Populi Romani, the Marian icon that tradition says was painted by St Luke and that watches over the inhabitants of the City of Rome.

“It is my great devotion. My great devotion. And before, when I used to come [to Rome, before his election, -ed.], I would always go there on Sunday mornings when I was in Rome, I would stay there for a while. There is a very great bond,” says Pope Francis. He explained that he prepared the rites of the Pope’s funeral with the papal master of ceremonies. “We simplified them a lot,” he said. The most recent papal funeral was that of Benedict XVI on 5 January in St Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis at Saint Mary Major
Pope Francis at Saint Mary Major

Relationship with Benedict XVI

Pope Francis went on to speak about his relationship with his predecessor, who lived for ten years as Pope emeritus, a few days before the first anniversary of Benedict XVI’s death. “My relationship with Pope Benedict was very close. Sometimes I went to consult him. And he, with great wisdom, would give me his opinion. But he would say, ‘You see [what you think]’, and he would leave it in my hands. He always helped me. He was very generous in this.”

Pope Francis described it as a “grace” to have been able to “bid farewell” to his predecessor, having just heard from a nurse that he was ill and asking for prayers for him during the last general audience in 2022. “I went to see him,” he recounts, “He was lucid, but he could no longer speak and he was holding my hand, like this. It was beautiful, that farewell. It was beautiful. And after three days he died. Benedict was a great man, a humble, simple man who, when he realized his limitations, had the courage to say enough. I admire this man.”

The Pope said he did not “notice” that Benedict was no longer there, in the sense that his departure was a bit like the last years of his life in the Mater Ecclesiae residence: discreet, silent, natural. “I didn’t notice. Sometimes I go to pray at the Popes’ tombs and pass by his. But I didn’t notice like the times he was advising me, I didn’t notice that there was someone else advising me. He had that wisdom of doing things with freedom. But the same as before. Before I had him close and now I have him far away, but with a very great simplicity.”

Pope Francis and Benedict XVI
Pope Francis and Benedict XVI

No plans for resignation

As on other occasions, the Pope said he would not rule out the possibility of one day following in Benedict’s footsteps, but repeated that now is not the time. A year ago, in an interview with ABC, Pope Francis revealed that at the beginning of his pontificate he had delivered – as is customary – a letter of resignation in the event of medical impediment to the then-Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. That letter remains where it is: “I don’t think about it. And I saw Benedict’s courage when he realized that he could not continue, he preferred to say, ‘Enough.’ And this is good for me as an example, and I ask the Lord to say, ‘Enough,’ eventually, but when He wants.”

Old age and health

Asked if it is true, as some critics claim, that after the passing of his predecessor, he has “become tougher,” while at the same time, his detractors have become “more virulent, more ferocious,” Pope Francis responded with a joke: “No, someone needs to be smacked around a little...”. He makes the comparison with fathers in their relationship with their children: “Sometimes a lecture is needed, but people are very good in here. I am complicated and sometimes a bit impatient and they put up with me.... The people in the Curia are very good.” “But now you are less strict with them…” Alazraki observed, to which the Pope responded, “It’s just that even grandparents get better, it’s part of the aging of life.”

Speaking of “old age,” the Pope – recently stricken with bronchitis, and having undergone surgery twice in the past two years at Gemelli hospital – admits the fragility of his health, but is reassuring about his condition. “I feel well, I feel better,” he said, while adding, “I need you to pray for my health,” because “old age does not come by itself … it does not make itself up, it presents itself as it is”. On the other hand, he said, “You have to know how to accept the gifts of old age” and “that you can also do very well from another perspective.” “Sometimes,” the Pope revealed, “they tell me that I am reckless because I feel like doing things and moving about.” It is a sign, he said, that “I am quite well.”

Pope Francis during his recovery at Gemelli hospital
Pope Francis during his recovery at Gemelli hospital

Upcoming trips

Bronchitis forced the cancellation of the early December trip to Dubai for Cop28. “It is true,” Pope Francis admitted, “that all trips are now being reconsidered. Those furthest away are reconsidered. There are limits, aren’t there? The limit that makes you realize that everything here ends and something else begins. Old age makes you mature a lot, it’s beautiful.”

Although the papal journeys are being re-evaluated, the Pope is still hoping to undertake three visits in the coming year: to Belgium, Polynesia, and Argentina.

The first, to Belgium, where he’s been invited by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde is “safe”, said Pope Francis. The other two are “pending”: “We will see how things go”.

It’s the first time the Pope has spoken publicly about visiting Polynesia, while he has mentioned the idea of returning to his homeland in almost all the interviews he has given over the past year.

The newly elected President Javier Milei also invited the Pope to Argentina in a telephone conversation after his election victory. Responding to a question about the expressions about the Pope used by the new president himself in the past, Pope Francis said: “In the electoral campaign things are said in jest, I say in quotes: they are said seriously, but they are provisional things, things that serve to create a bit of attention, but then fade away by themselves. You have to distinguish a lot between what a politician says in the election campaign and what he actually does afterward, because then comes the moment of concreteness, of decisions.”

Pope Francis at the General Audience, 13 December 2023
Pope Francis at the General Audience, 13 December 2023

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

13 December 2023, 13:03