Pope Francis last night acknowledged he might need to retire early due to his failing health, saying his week-long Canadian pilgrimage had shown him his “limitations”.
It came as the 85-year-old pontiff concluded his six-day trip by saying the treatment of indigenous people in Canada amounted to “genocide” after earlier apologising to survivors of abuse at Catholic-run schools.
The Canada trip featured several moments when Francis was clearly in pain as he manoeuvred getting up and down from chairs.
His use of a wheelchair, walker and cane to move around sharply limited 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.
Pope Francis stressed he had not thought about resigning but said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.
“It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the pope,” he said while sitting in a wheelchair during a 45-minute news conference.
While he said 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,” he said.
Despite a long day travelling to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to again apologise to indigenous peoples for the injustices they suffered in residential schools, the Pope seemed in good spirits at the end of his trip.
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 last year to remove 33 centimetres 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.
From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.
Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.
Francis expanded on his apology made earlier in the trip for “evil” inflicted on indigenous communities at residential schools where children were sent as part of a policy of forced assimilation, and said it amounted to genocide.
“I have described what is, indeed, a genocide.” He cited the “cultural destruction” and the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of children over decades.
Telegraph Media Group Limited