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Why is everyone talking about Pope Francis’ trip to L’Aquila?

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Pope Francis sat at the front of the congregation in St. Peter’s Basilica on the Solemnity of Pentecost on June 5, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jun 6, 2022 / 10:07 am (CNA).

On Saturday, June 4, the Holy See press office announced that Pope Francis will visit the Italian city of L’Aquila at the end of August.

The announcement prompted unsourced speculation that the trip could be the prelude to the 85-year-old pope’s resignation.

What does L’Aquila have to do with papal resignations?

The city in central Italy is the burial place of Pope Celestine V, who led the Catholic Church for just five months before his resignation on Dec. 13, 1294. The pope, who was canonized in 1313, is buried in L’Aquila’s Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

Pope Celestine V resigned over 700 years ago. Why he is relevant today?

When Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years in 2013, Vatican-watchers recalled that he had visited the tomb of Celestine V years earlier. During his trip on April 28, 2009, he left his pallium — the white wool vestment given to metropolitan archbishops — on the tomb. In hindsight, commentators suggested that he was indicating his intention to resign.

Is there anything unusual about the timing of the papal visit to L’Aquila?

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to L’Aquila on Sunday, Aug. 28, the day after he creates 21 new cardinals. Following the trip, he will meet with members of the College of Cardinals to discuss the new Vatican constitution, which came into effect on June 5. All three events — the consistory creating new cardinals, the L’Aquila trip, and the extraordinary consistory — are taking place during what is normally a quiet month at the Vatican.

What is the pope scheduled to do in L’Aquila?

He will make a private visit to the city’s cathedral, which is still being rebuilt after it was badly damaged during a 2019 earthquake in which more than 300 people died.

After speaking to the families of the victims, he will be driven to Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where he will celebrate an outdoor Mass, recite the Angelus, and open a holy door. The visit’s official schedule does not mention the tomb of Celestine V or — unsurprisingly — anything to do with a papal resignation.

Why is Pope Francis opening a holy door?

Each year on Aug. 28-29, Catholics make a pilgrimage to L’Aquila to take part in an event called the Celestinian Forgiveness (known in Italian as the Perdonanza Celestiniana.)

The opening of the holy door will mark the start of the annual celebration established by Pope Celestine V in 1294 and inscribed by UNESCO on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila said that Francis will be the first pope to open the holy door for 728 years.

Have there been rumors about Pope Francis resigning before?

Days after the pope underwent colon surgery in July 2021, rumors swept social media claiming that the pope planned to resign “in the next few hours.” But the speculation was quickly proven false. The pope left the hospital and soon resumed his hectic schedule.

A steady stream of resignation theories continued to appear throughout 2021. The pope’s health problems in 2022, which have forced him to use a wheelchair for public events, triggered more conjecture.

Has Pope Francis said anything about resigning?

After his election in 2013, Pope Francis praised Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. In a 2014 interview, he said that “Benedict is the first and maybe there will be others. We don’t know.”

But he has never said explicitly that he personally intends to resign. Speaking after his colon surgery in 2021, he noted that “Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze or a hurricane of conclave.”

Referring to resignation rumors that appeared to originate in his homeland of Argentina, he added: “I don’t know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign! What word did they understand in my country? That’s where the news came from. And they say it was a commotion, when it didn’t even cross my mind.”


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