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Frail Pope is helped to his feet at weekly audience days after speculation that he plans to resign

There is growing speculation about Pope Francis and whether he may be stepping down after he struggled to walk and sit unaided today.

Rumors have been swirling that the 85-year-old, who has been pope for nine years, may resign after postponing a trip to Africa and announcing an unusual gathering of cardinals.

Pictured during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, the Argentine spoke of how old age is “a time to find strength in vulnerability” and encouraged the elderly to embrace their vulnerability and helplessness.

He appeared to have visible discomfort getting in and out of his seat and was accompanied by two assistants.

Pope Francis was still able to deliver his weekly address and greet the public, he also spoke about victims of devastating earthquakes in Afghanistan and violence in Mexico.

Pope Francis (pictured today) has continued to fuel speculation he could resign his role as he continues to struggle with mobility and walking

Pope Francis (pictured today) has continued to fuel speculation he could resign his role as he continues to struggle with mobility and walking

Speculation arose after Pope Francis postponed a trip to Africa and announced an unusual gathering of cardinals

Speculation arose after Pope Francis postponed a trip to Africa and announced an unusual gathering of cardinals

In his weekly general audience, the Pope discussed old age and told the elderly to embrace their weakness and helplessness to bring them closer to Christ

In his weekly general audience, the Pope discussed old age and told the elderly to embrace their weakness and helplessness to bring them closer to Christ

The Pope looked cheerful as he waved to the faithful as he arrived at the weekly general audience

The Pope looked cheerful as he waved to the faithful as he arrived at the weekly general audience

Pope Francis, accompanied by his bodyguards and assistants, sets off in the Popemobile car

Pope Francis, accompanied by his bodyguards and assistants, sets off in the Popemobile car

Struggling with pain in his knee and forced to use a wheelchair in recent weeks, the pope last week postponed a July trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

He also announced an unusual decision to hold a church council to appoint new cardinals during a holiday month at the Vatican and arranged meetings to ensure his reforms remained intact.

The extraordinary church council will be held on August 27, a slow summer month at Catholic headquarters, to create 21 new cardinals – 16 of whom will be under the age of 80, making them eligible to elect his successor in a future conclave.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Argentina’s pope has created 83 cardinals to shape the future of the Catholic Church, in part to counter Europe’s historically dominant influence and reflect its values.

On August 28, Francis will then visit L’Aquila and the tomb of Celestine V – the first pope to resign from the papacy in the 13th century.

He then joins the world’s cardinals – many of them meeting their colleagues for the first time – in two days of discussions on the reform of the Roman Curia, which Francis announced in March with the unveiling of a new constitution.

Francis’ turmoil of the Roman Curia seeks to return the church to its pastoral roots, allows lay Catholics to run Vatican departments, and creates a dicastery dedicated to charitable works and other reforms.

The moves have sparked intense speculation about his plans for the future, including the most radical – that he intended to step down.

A pope’s resignation was once almost unthinkable until Benedict XVI resigned from his government in 2013, citing his declining physical and mental health.

In 2014, a year after he was elected to replace Benedict, Francis himself told reporters that his health would stand in the way of impeding his papal functions that he would consider stepping down as well.

Prefect of the Papal House, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza helps Pope Francis reach his seat

Prefect of the Papal House, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza helps Pope Francis reach his seat

Francis previously told reporters that if his health hindered his function as Pope, he would consider stepping down

Francis previously told reporters that if his health hindered his function as Pope, he would consider stepping down

Pope Francis walks with a cane because of pain in his knee

Pope Francis walks with a cane because of pain in his knee

The Pope still had the strength to greet the crowd that had gathered to listen to him

The Pope still had the strength to greet the crowd that had gathered to listen to him

“He (Benedict) opened a door, the door for retired popes,” the pope said then.

More recently in May, as reported by several Italian media outlets, Francis joked about his knee during a closed-door meeting with bishops: “Instead of operating, I will resign.”

But Vatican insiders don’t think Francis is about to hand over the papal keys just yet.

A source told AFP: “In the Pope’s entourage, the majority of people don’t really believe in the possibility of resignation.”

Rumors within the insular Roman Curia – the powerful governing body of the Catholic Church – are nothing new and are often fueled by those interested, Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi said.

“These rumors are encouraged by the Pope’s opponents, who are only eager to see Francis leave,” he told AFP.

A trip to Canada in late July is still on the Pope’s schedule, and the Pope continues to receive injections in his knee and physical therapy, the Vatican said.

As a child, Francis had one of his lungs partially removed. Today, in addition to his knee problem, he suffers from recurring sciatic nerve pain.

Rumors also flared last year of a layoff after Francis had colon surgery, prompting him to tell a Spanish radio station that the idea “hadn’t even crossed my mind.”

Politi said of the latest layoffs: “At this stage, it’s a matter of being realistic and not alarming.”

He said it was “hard to imagine” Francis stepping down while the Synod of Bishops — an initiative of significance to Francis that aims to study how the Church is moving forward in a more inclusive way — is underway, expected to be completed in 2023. must be.

Alberto Melloni, a professor of Christianity and secretary of the John XXIII Foundation of Religious Sciences in Bologna, told AFP that “ridiculous” suspicions had been raised about the Pope’s health and his intentions.

“These are things in which there is a desire to understand, to speculate, but there is little to say,” he said.

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