The pope’s knee problems are just the latest in a string of health problems the pontiff has faced. Last July, he underwent surgery to remove part of his colon, which kept him in a hospital for 10 days. In February, Francis canceled a trip to Florence, Italy, after doctors told him to take it easy with his knee, and he also sat out Ash Wednesday celebrations in March. He has remained seated during other papal Masses, delegating the celebration. He also postponed a trip to Lebanon, originally scheduled for mid-June, “for health reasons,” according to Lebanese officials who announced the cancellation.
The pope also has problems with sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes, back, hip and leg pain, and makes him walk with a limp. Flare-ups of that condition have forced him to cancel or modify high-profile appearances.
The Vatican has never specified the ailment afflicting the pope’s knee. In an interview published in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera in early May, Francis said he had a torn ligament and had been prescribed “a series of knee injections.”
He said that the problem with his knee had been “going on for some time now — I can’t walk around anymore.” He added, as a joke: “Once upon a time, popes used to be carried around in their sedan chair. But a bit of pain can be humbling, a blessing in disguise.”
The rumors of the pope’s possible retirement emerged after Francis announced last week that he would travel in August to the central Italian city of L’Aquila, to visit the basilica that holds the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who resigned from the papacy in 1294, the first pope to do so.
In April 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also traveled to L’Aquila, just a few weeks after a devastating earthquake killed more than 300 people. During that trip, he stopped at the basilica, Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where he prayed in front of Celestine’s body. Four years later, Benedict stepped down, and his earlier gesture was interpreted as a sign that he had been thinking of resigning.