After being hospitalized again at the Gemelli Hospital for a second intestinal operation, which follows the one two years ago, it is already a fact that the health of Pope Francis is a factor of uncertainty, which feeds the interns in the Holy See.
And this, even more than in the last two years, will unleash all possible speculations about the aftermath of Bergoglio and about the fact that it is necessary to prepare for an upcoming Conclave. Surely, in the Vatican and outside, there are those who are already doing it.
After the first colon operation, on July 4, 2021, again in Gemelli, it was the Pontiff himself who alluded to that scenario. It was in Bratislava, during a pastoral visit, in a meeting with the Jesuits of the region.
To the first and simple question, "How are you?", the answer was a real provocation from Francis: "I am still alive. Although some wanted me dead. I know that there have even been meetings between prelates, who thought that mine was more serious than what was said. They were preparing the conclave. Patience! Thank God, I'm fine..."
During that hospitalization, among other things, there were those who had bounced the "news" about the possibility of his resignation because he was seriously ill... returned to the sender by the Pope himself.
"I personally may deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve this: it is the work of the devil. I even told some," adds Francis, who also complains about murmurings and accusations in many Catholic circles.
The Gemelli Polyclinic, where Pope Francis was operated on Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS
Since then, and even more so after his last hospitalization last March for a respiratory infection, to whom he asks how he is, Pope Francis responds that "he is still alive"
To date, in addition to the audiences suspended due to hospitalization until Sunday, June 18, the Pontiff continues to look forward to his next commitments: the trip to Lisbon from August 2 to 6 has been announced, that of Mongolia from August 31 to September 4 and in October will be the Synod on synodality, while this Wednesday he announced an upcoming Apostolic Letter on Saint Therese of Lisieux.
Francis has always repeated that the intention to resign "never crossed" his mind, although he already signed the letter of resignation at the beginning of his pontificate, ten years ago, in the event of a medical impediment.
Surgeon Sergio Alfieri and Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters Wednesday at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic. Photo: EFE
But there is no shortage of difficulties in exercising his ministry, among them those caused by the persistent and tenacious "gonalgia", the pain in the right knee due to ligament problems that prevents him from moving easily, standing up and that forces him to only preside over the celebrations, both in the Vatican and on trips, while cardinals and bishops always celebrate at the altar.
The delicate issue of succession
And the current hospitalization with a new surgical operation will rekindle the tam-tam, in particular fueled by his critics, on the fragile health of the pope and on the prospect of a succession.
Only in recent days is there talk that for the first time, since Friday, June 2, the cardinal electors appointed by Pope Francis since the beginning of his pontificate form two-thirds of the total, that is, the quorum necessary to elect a Pope in a Conclave.
The mathematical quota, equal to 81 cardinal electors out of 121, was reached with the 80th birthday of the archbishop emeritus of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe, which fell precisely on June 2.
Of the other 40 "electors," nine were created by John Paul II and 31 by Benedict XVI.
But even if Bergoglio's appointees can now choose a successor, anyone who thinks it is a cohesive and uniform "body" would be mistaken. Far from it. Among them there is everything, and much more than just "progressives" and innovators.
Given its history, Matteo Zuppi could surely belong to the latter identikit, as well as the Luxembourger Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Canadian Jesuit Michael Czerny, the faithful Polish almoner Konrad Krajewski, other Italians such as Paolo Lojudice and the missionary in Mongolia Giorgio Marengo, exponent like few of the "Churches on the border".
Among Francis' nominees, however, is also one of the leaders of the "conservative" front, Germany's Gerhard Ludwig Mueller.
Also conservative are many Americans and many Africans. While in a mediation position you could include an authoritarian figure like Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
It remains to be seen how and towards whom such a heterogeneous formation will converge, a widely open question. And even the "when" remains with a question mark, given that, at least for the moment, and if health conditions permit, Pope Bergoglio seems to have no intention of yielding.