By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC
The health of a pope is always a big thing for the media. And not just for the media. The Catholic world—and a sizeable chunk of the non-Catholic world—watched as John Paul II’s protracted dying played out in full drama.
With John Paul I, it was even more arresting. He died unpredictably with barely a month in office.
The health of Pope Francis is becoming an increasing concern as his mobility is seriously compromised, his medical treatment shrouded in a bit of mystery (remember last year’s intestinal surgery), but still his commitment to seeing out his duties as Peter remains in no way diminished. But the body speaks its own language, has its own schedule, and makes its own demands. Something has to give.
For Canadians, the worry is especially acute. The pope is scheduled to visit the country this July, the itinerary is set, expectations are high, and disappointment will be great should it be temporarily cancelled.
Colleague and friend Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican journalist long resident in Rome, writes that “despite the knee problem, the pope is showing no signs of slowing down... his daily schedule of meetings has not been scaled back at all. If anything, it looks like the pope is actually picking up the pace.”
Typical Bergoglio. God willing, we will see him in July and for a goodly time after. Rumours of a pontifical death flourish for years before it actually happens—media fodder, for sure—and there can be no doubt, except perhaps for the credulous, that plots, plans and intrigue are already afoot should Peter’s seat suddenly become vacant.
And in all of this speculation, we should factor in the simple truth that the Francis vision of an incarnated synodality, in order to become embedded in Catholic consciousness, needs this pope to remain on the Tiber for some time yet.