Pope Francis has a message for his haters: “Still alive. Even though some people wanted me dead.” Hundreds of Italians cheered for him under a Rome hospital balcony this summer. But not everybody was happy he made it out of colon surgery, the pontiff has quipped. Some of his foes held secret meetings about his health.
I know that there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope was in a more serious condition than what was being said,” he added in a meeting this month with Jesuits in Slovakia, after someone asked him how he was doing.
They were preparing the conclave,” he said, referring to a meeting where a new pope is elected. “Patience! Thank God, I am well.”
At 84 years old, the head of the Roman Catholic Church is back at work after spending 10 days at a hospital in July when doctors removed part of his intestine. The scheduled operation went smoothly, though it did revive questions about whether Francis would stay in his role as he grows older. Since the early 1800s, only one pope has hit age 86 while still in the chair.
In his eight-year tenure, Francis’s more liberal overtones than the popes before him – from his invitation of LGBT advocates to the Vatican to his calls to welcome refugees – have stirred tensions with conservatives, and drew pushback.
The post-op papal joke about bishops wishing him ill marked a frank acknowledgment of the forces within the church who are at odds with him. In answering questions about the challenges the church faces – and the divisions from within – one detractor Francis mentioned was “a large Catholic television that constantly gossips” about him.
While he did not name names, Catholic TV network EWTN often features U.S. conservatives who oppose his warnings about climate change and voice anger at his new restrictions on the old Latin Mass. Still, the pontiff said, “I just go forward without entering into their world of ideas and fantasies.”
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