ROME — Amid news reports suggesting his doctors have advised the 78-year-old pontiff to eat less pasta and get more exercise in order to resist fatigue, Pope Francis devoted his Holy Thursday meditation to exhaustion among priests, admitting that he, too, feels run-down once in a while.
“Do you know how many times I think about this: the weariness which all of you experience?” Francis said. “I think about it and pray about it often, especially when I’m tired myself.”
Given Francis’ multiple references to the possibility of a short papacy, Vatican-watchers are keenly attentive for insight on the state of his health.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported this week that Francis’ physicians told him to cut back on pasta to just twice a week, a classic Italian dish the pope is presently known to enjoy almost every day, and to take regular walks as he once did as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, partly in order to keep his weight down.
Fighting weight gain is thought to be especially important for Francis, who suffers from occasional lower back pain related to a sciatic problem, and who maintains a schedule that would run down most people half his age.
According to the ANSA report, Francis hasn’t responded well to the suggestions. One doctor is quoted as describing the pontiff as an “undisciplined” patient.
Meanwhile, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan appeared on the Today show to offer the pope some advice: “Get a new doctor.”
Francis didn’t refer to those reports in his annual Mass for Holy Thursday, but he did say that weariness can be either a “grace” or a “temptation.”
He said the tiredness of priests who devote themselves completely to their people is healthy.
“This tiredness is good,” the pope said. “It’s the tiredness of the priest who smells like the sheep … but smiles like a father who contemplates his children or nephews.”
Yet the pope also warned clerics against the “bad weariness” of a priest who “hides in his office”, who “rides around the city in a car with tinted windows,” who uses expensive perfumes, and who looks at others from afar.
The pontiff’s comments came as he was celebrating the Chrism Mass, with priests from all over the diocese of Rome gathered in the basilica. The homily during that Mass is usually the pope’s main annual address to the priests.
Francis posed a series of questions, asking priests how they find their rest.
“Do I know how to rest by accepting the love, gratitude, and affection which I receive from God’s grateful people?” Francis asked. “Or, once my pastoral work is done, do I seek more refined relaxations, not those of the poor but those provided by a consumerist society?”
So far, the Vatican has not reacted to the report about the pope’s doctors urging him to take better care of himself. In such cases, the Vatican typically takes the position that such matters pertain to the pope’s private life and thus declines to release any comment.
But Francis himself recently lamented that as pope, he misses being able to run out for a pizza. That prompted a Naples pizzamaker to intercept the popemobile as it drove past the waterfront during Francis’ visit to that city and hand the pope a special pizza, which Francis accepted with a smile.
This week there’s little indication that Francis is in immediate danger of running out of energy, given his busy Easter schedule.
He’s set to celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper later Thursday. As he did during the first year of his pontificate, he’ll celebrate it at a local prison, where he’ll wash the feet of inmates.
On Friday, he’ll preside over the service of the Passion of the Lord as well as the Way of the Cross, during which families, religious women, and faithful from Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, and China will carry a cross around Rome’s coliseum.
On Saturday, Francis will preside over the Easter Vigil Mass, and on Easter Sunday he’ll celebrate an open-air Mass in St. Peter’s Square.