Even though he uses a walking stick, and is seen more and more often in a wheelchair, not everyone realizes that Pope Francis will soon turn 87.
And it’s not just his age that’s making it difficult for him to maintain the energy he started out with when he became Pope nearly 11 years ago…
Quite honestIy, travelling isn’t as easy for me as it used to be. I have problems walking and this makes things difficult.
Mostly recently, it was those problems that forced him to cancel a trip to Dubai for the Climate Conference, an event he’d had every intention of attending. The latest election results in his home-country of Argentina appear to have taken that trip off the list of papal itineraries for a while as well, and any other visits abroad for 2024 are currently on hold.
The Pope still hasn’t completely ruled out a much talked-anticipated visit to Vietnam, although he also hasn’t specified whether the pope who ends up going there will be him…
About a trip to Vietnam: if I don't go, John XXIV will go. But it will definitely happen.
Health wise, 2023 was a challenging year for Pope Francis: he was hospitalised in March for a lung infection and again in June for a hernia. Going forward into 2024, his doctors are telling him he needs to slow down – especially since the challenges keep mounting up.
The one unfolding in Germany is especially complex. The effects of what the Church in that country calls the Synodal Way are making themselves felt and clearly giving the Pope a headache. In 2023 he expressed “concern” about the direction the German Church is taking. More recently, he used unusually stern language when he criticised the Synodal Way for (quote) “threatening to move even further away from the common path of the Universal Church".
In 2024, if things in Germany go as planned, the intention there is to set up a Synodal Committee that would like to take away authority from the German bishops in order to make independent decisions. Such a move would have serious repercussions and provoke more than just a papal headache.
Then there’s the second half of the Pope’s own Synod on Synodality which is scheduled to hold its final General Assembly in October 2024. There are still several controversial issues left over from the first half that await clarification, like whether or not to allow women deacons, and how to minister to people with same-sex attraction.
Pope Francis’ fourth challenge for 2024 will be continuing to confront the ongoing sex abuse scandals in the Church. The question of artist and former Jesuit, Marko Rupnik, is case in point. Despite credible accusations of abuse by more than 20 women, and an excommunication that was inexplicably revoked, Rupnik continued in his ministry.
Following media pressure, and an intervention by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis has since reopened the process against him. There is a fifth challenge facing the Pope next year: preparing for the Jubilee of 2025. Although it’s likely to be marked by major events and great celebrations, a Jubilee is more than just an excuse to visit Rome. Traditionally held every 25 years, it’s an opportunity to experience the Faith in a way that’s more dynamic, committed and engaged.
But it is still a great excuse to come to Rome.