Pope Francis breaks silence after health fears forced him to miss very special service

Pope Francis wears a face mask during ceremony in Rome

On Friday, Pope Francis stood publicly behind a desk to deliver a message of “peace and serenity” after skipping New Year’s masses on Thursday and Friday due to sciatica-related complications. In his speech following the Angelus prayers, the Pope said: “I send you all my best wishes for peace and serenity in the new year.

“The painful events which marked the life of humanity last year, in particular the pandemic, taught us how necessary it is to take an interest in the problems of others and share their concerns.”

Shortly before Christmas two cardinals in the Pope’s circle tested positive for coronavirus, raising the alarm over his safety.

The Pontiff has not always worn a mask in public, something that led to concerns he could easily have contracted the disease.

The 83-year-old became head of the Catholic Church in 2013, following the resignation of Benedict XVI.

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However, the Pontiff has been surrounded by speculation regarding the length of his papacy and whether he intended to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.

Austen Ivereigh, the former Director for Public Affairs of the previous Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, has previously spoken out about Pope Francis’ future.

He said: “I don’t think there’s ever been any doubt that he will resign in 2020.

“He made clear from the beginning that he regarded Pope Benedict’s (XVI) act as a prophetic act of great modesty and he would have absolutely no problem in doing the same.”

Mr Ivereigh recalled an interview in which the Pontiff admitted that he believed his time in the Vatican would be short.

The biographer added that there was a chance the Pope was forced to postpone his resignation.

He added: “What was interesting was he said to Mexican television in 2014 that he believed that he would have a short papacy of about five years.

“Now, given that he was elected in March 2013, then in 2017 he would have considered stepping down if nature hadn’t intervened.

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“But what I’m hearing now from people close to him is that he’s going to need seven years to achieve his five-year plan and that, of course, would mean staying on until 2020.”

Mr Ivereigh, who wrote The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, highlighted that Pope Francis does not think he will decide when to leave office.

He said: “He knows he is in the hands of God and so none of this is predictable.

“You can look at it two ways, I mean politically you could say it is quite clever because he’s also signalling to those people who do want to see a change in the church, that there isn’t much time.

“He’s putting salt on the tail of everyone saying ‘we need to get this done,’ so I think you can take (his plan) both ways.”

Speaking in a lengthy television interview with Mexican news programme Notifiers Televisa, the Pope admitted he believed his pontificate could be as short as three years.

He said: “I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief. Four or five years. I do not know, or two, three. Well, two have already passed.

“It’s like a little vague feeling, but I have the feeling that the Lord puts me [here] for a brief thing and not more.”

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