PICTURED: Frail Pope Francis helped to his feet at weekly audience as health fears soar

Pope Francis falls on plane steps after Greece visit

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The revealing pictures come just a few days after speculation soared that the pontiff may resign after he postponed a trip to Africa and subsequently called an unusual meeting of cardinals. Pictured at yesterday’s weekly general audience at the Vatican, the 85-year-old struggled to get to his feet without help, shortly after giving a speech about old age. The Argentinian said that old age was “a time to find strength in frailty”, and encouraged the elderly to embrace the helplessness that comes with it.

Despite his apparent mobility issues, Pope Francis still delivered the weekly talk and greet his audience. He also spoke about victims of the devastating earthquake in Afghanistan, and violence in Mexico.

Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the future of the Catholic Church have sparked speculation that he may be considering resigning. The pontiff postponed a July trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan last week.

Shortly after announcing the cancellation, he announced an unusual move: He would be holding a consistory to name new cardinals during a Vatican vacation month, and arranged meetings to ensure his reforms stay intact.

The consistory will be held on August 27, a slow summer month at the Catholic headquarters. It will create 21 new cardinals – 16 of whom will be under the age of 80, and thereby eligible to elect his successor in a future conclave.

Since he became Pope in 2013, Pope Francis has created 83 cardinals, a move which appears to partly be in order to counter Europe’s historically dominant influence over the Catholic Church. This shake-up attempts to shift the Church back towards its pastoral roots, allowing lay Catholics to head Vatican departments, as well as creating a dicastery specifically for charity work.

This reforming of the Church has set off intense speculation about the Pope’s own future, including the possibility that he could step down. The idea of a pope resigning had once been unthinkable.

However, Benedict XVI bucked this trend when he resigned in 2013, citing his declining physical and mental health.

A year after being elected to replace Benedict, Pope Francis told reporters that were his health to get int he way of his ability to perform his functions as Pope, he would consider stepping down too. He said at the time that Benedict “opened a door, the door to retired popes”.

More recently in May, Italian media reported that Francis joked about his knee behind closed doors with his bishops, saying: “Rather than operate, I’ll resign”.

However, Vatican insiders are not so sure he will do it. One source told AFP: “In the Pope’s entourage, the majority of people don’t really believe in the possibility of a resignation.”

Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi added to AFP that the rumours “are encouraged by the Pope’s opponents who are only eager to see Francis leave”. A trip to Canada at the end of July is still on the pontiff’s schedule, and the Pope continues to receive injections in his knee and physical therapy, according to the Vatican.

As a child, Francis had one of his lungs partially removed. Today, besides his knee issue, he suffers recurring sciatic nerve pain.

Rumours of a resignation also flared last year after Francis underwent colon surgery, prompting him to tell a Spanish radio station that the idea ‘hadn’t even crossed my mind’. Mr Politi said of the latest resignation rumours: “At this stage, it is a question of being realistic and not alarmist.

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”In the Pope’s entourage, the majority of people don’t really believe in the possibility of a resignation.”

Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi added to AFP that the rumours “are encouraged by the Pope’s opponents who are only eager to see Francis leave”.

A trip to Canada at the end of July is still on the pontiff’s schedule, and the Pope continues to receive injections in his knee and physical therapy, according to the Vatican. As a child, Francis had one of his lungs partially removed. Today, besides his knee issue, he suffers recurring sciatic nerve pain.

Rumours of a resignation also flared last year after Francis underwent colon surgery, prompting him to tell a Spanish radio station that the idea ‘hadn’t even crossed my mind’.

Mr Politi said of the latest resignation rumours: “At this stage, it is a question of being realistic and not alarmist.”

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