Pope Francis has hinted that he is considering stepping down as head of the Catholic Church.
The 85-year-old confessed that his week-long Canadian pilgrimage had been “a bit of a test” because of strained right knee ligaments.
He said it showed he needs to slow down and one day possibly retire.
While travelling home from Nunavut near the Arctic Circle, the Pope – who was clearly in pain at times – said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.
“It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the Pope,” he said while sitting in a wheelchair during a 45-minute news conference.
Francis said that while he had not considered resigning until now, he realises he has to at least slow down.
“I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save (my energy) to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside.”
This is the first trip in which he used a wheelchair, walker and cane to get around, sharply limiting his programme and ability to mingle with crowds.
He strained his right knee ligaments earlier this year, and continuing laser and magnetic therapy forced him to cancel a trip to Africa that was scheduled for the first week of July.
The Canada trip has featured several moments when Francis was clearly in pain as he manoeuvred getting up and down from chairs.
Francis ruled out having surgery on his knee, saying it would not necessarily help and noting “there are still traces” from the effects of having undergone more than six hours of anaesthesia in July 2021 to remove 13inches of his large intestine.
“I’ll try to continue to do the trips and be close to people because I think it’s a way of servicing, being close. But more than this, I can’t say,” he said.