ROME – While insisting that he continues to improve and has no present plans to resign, Pope Francis nevertheless has revealed in a new interview that he’s begun making plans for his own funeral and burial, including his desire to be entombed in Rome’s famed Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Speaking to Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki in an interview with Spanish-language news site N+ that was published Wednesday, Pope Francis gave an update on his health after being forced to cancel a Dec. 1-3 trip to Dubai for a United Nations climate summit, saying he is better, but people should be “a little bit” worried.
“I need you all to pray for my health,” he said, saying old age “does not put on makeup,” but it does come with many gifts, such as learning to see things “from another perspective.”
Francis admitted that he has had to slow down, and that his international trips have had to be “rethought” in light of mobility problems that have at times confined him to a wheelchair, acknowledging that “these are limits.”
However, the pontiff, who turns 87 on Dec. 17, insisted that “old age matures you a lot, it’s nice,” and that he generally feels better, despite a year marked with hospital stays and various health challenges.
“Sometimes they tell me that I am imprudent because I want to do things and move,” he said, but called this a positive sign and said “I’m pretty good.”
Asked whether he had reconsidered resigning due to his health challenges this year, the pope said, “It didn’t occur to me,” and that while he admired his predecessor Benedict XVI’s “courage” in stepping down, “I ask the Lord to say enough, at some point, but when he wants.”
Pope Francis affirmed that the papacy is a permanent job, but also stressed the need to be prepared for when the end comes.
To this end, he revealed that he has met with the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Italian Archbishop Diego Ravelli, to plan out his own funeral and to modify the papal funeral rite, which he said, “We simplified quite a bit.”
“It had to be done,” he said, saying his place of entombment “is already prepared,” and that he will be buried in the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major, his favorite of four papal basilicas, which is home to the famed Roman icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani and which he visits on special Marian holidays, and before and after every international trip he takes.
“Before, when I came, I always went there on Sunday mornings when I was in Rome, I would go there for a while. Yes, there is a very big connection,” he said.
Though noteworthy, Pope Francis’s decision to be buried outside of St. Peter’s Basilica is not a novelty. In fact, St. Mary Major contains the remains of five previous popes: Pius V, Sixtus V, Clement XIII, Paul V and Clement IX.
Ironically, Pope Pius V was the pontiff who issued Quo Primum, enjoining priests “now and forever” to celebrate according to the Roman Missal and is therefore considered a hero for enthusiasts of the Latin Mass, while Francis is known for his broad restrictions of the Traditional Latin Mass.
In his interview, Francis also discussed relations with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, his crackdown on certain critics this year, and plans for 2024, including a potential long-awaited return trip to Argentina.
Asked if this year was different, as it marked his first year in office without his predecessor’s presence, the pope said “in part yes,” and described his relationship with Benedict XVI as “very close.”
“Sometimes I would consult him and he with great wisdom told me his opinion but said, ‘you see,’ he left it in my hands. He always helped me. He was very generous in this,” Francis said, saying he was happy that he had the chance to say goodbye to Benedict when he found out the end was near.
“I found out from a nurse that he was ill, and I informed the audience that Wednesday and I went to see him. He was lucid, but he could not speak, and he took my hand like that, that goodbye was nice. And then after three days he died,” he said, calling Benedict “a great man, a humble man, a simple man” whom he admired.
Asked about impressions that he has been tougher on his conservative critics since Benedict’s passing, ousting American Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas from office and stripping American Cardinal Raymond Burke of his salary and apartment, Francis said “no,” but that “some of them have to be hit a little.”
He repeated a caution that he has said in the past, that at times parents must chastise their children, “but never in the face.”
“Sometimes a reprimand is necessary, but the people are very good in here,” he said, saying he himself is “complicated and sometimes a little impatient and they put up with me,” but that the people working in the curia “are very good.”
In terms of plans for the coming year, Pope Francis said he has one confirmed international trip to Belgium, though he did not specify when, and that there are two tentative trips to Polynesia and to Argentina that are “pending.”
“We will see how things turn out, but over time I’m going to get back to things,” he said.
When asked about critical remarks made by Argentina’s new President, Javier Milei, who ran on an anti-pope campaign and has called Francis a “communist,” and “imbecile” and “a son-of-a b*tch,” among other things, the pope appeared to play down the comments.
“In the electoral campaign, things are said … but they are provisional things, things that are used to create a bit of attention, but which after fall away on their own,” he said, stressing the need to “distinguish a lot between what a politician says in the electoral campaign and what he is really going to do afterwards, because then comes the moment of concreteness, of decisions, those things.”
Pope Francis said he has been invited to visit Argentina, and that he trusts politicians and has faith in them, “because I believe that politics – I didn’t say it, a previous pope said it – is the highest form of charity; that is, love for the people, political love.”
“Bad politicians” keep a tally of gains and losses, while “great politicians are the ones who give us the true message of what politics is,” he said.
Speaking of current wars, the pope lamented that the world has become accustomed to the ongoing war in Ukraine while many people, including many youths, die daily.
“War is always a defeat, always, the only ones who gain in war are the arms manufacturers, and there the economist told me that a person who has no morals and who wants to invest, the best investments are the arms factory, which gives more revenue,” he said.
Francis said he had recently spoken with the pastor of Gaza and that he calls the parish every day.
There are some 600 people sheltering at the Catholic parish in Gaza, with the priests and nuns of the city attending to them and informing him of what is happening, which the pope referred to as “Terror.”
“What do we gain from war? Destruction, nothing more than that…I can safely say that the end of the Second World War until now, there has always been some war out there,” he said.
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