If you think your diary looks busy over the next few days, spare a thought for Pope Francis. The 85-year-old, who was confined to a wheelchair for several months this year, is preparing for a big weekend. He will be spending it in the company of the world’s cardinals – the red-clad figures who are supposed to be his closest advisers but seldom meet en masse in Rome these days. Now the pope has finally decided to gather them together – in the Eternal City’s unforgiving August heat.
The pope will be adding to the cardinals’ number today. Tomorrow, he will be dashing off to L’Aquila, the Italian city that boasts the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who resigned in 1294. He will shuttle back to the Vatican for a meeting with the cardinals on his new constitution for the Roman Curia.
What is the meaning of this frenetic activity? With Pope Francis, it’s always hard to tell as he likes to keep everyone guessing. Hence, the explosion of speculation when the Vatican unveiled his programme for the end of August. Will he announce his resignation in L’Aquila? Could he unveil new norms governing the role of retired popes? Or maybe he will change the rules around the conclave electing his successor? Might he even nominate a ‘coadjutor’ pope to eventually succeed him? That’s just a taste of the theories.
Rome has had a fin du pontificat feel ever since Francis underwent colon surgery in July 2021. He responded to his health challenges by going into overdrive. Just days after leaving hospital, he launched a global crackdown on the traditional Latin Mass. In March, he suddenly released the new Vatican constitution.