The day after gathering more than 200 red-robed cardinals from around the world and elevating 20 new “princes of the church,” Pope Francis emphasized the importance of humility to his audience at a Mass on Sunday (Aug. 28). He emphasized the importance of selflessness and, perhaps as a tease to Catholic leaders who had heard rumors of his retirement, knowing when to step down.
“There is no other way to realize God’s will than to take on the strength of the humble,” Pope Francis said in his homily at St. Mary in Collemaggio Basilica in Aquila, near Rome. “Because of the way they are, the humble are seen as weak and losers, but in reality, they are the real winners because they are the only ones who trust completely in the Lord and know his will.”
The pope had come to Aquila for the first time in 700 years to perform the dramatic opening of the basilica’s Holy Door, a tradition begun by Pope Celestine V, who first opened the door in 1294 A.D. to allow believers to enter through the gate to seek forgiveness of their sins.
The pardon, which typically lasts only a few days, has been extended until late August of next year.
Aside from the Celestinian Pardon, Celestine is remembered for being one of the few pontiffs who chose to retire rather than continue in office until death. Francis also went to Celestine’s tomb beneath the basilica, which Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI famously went to four years before announcing his resignation in 2013.
Francis had most of the men who will appoint his successor in Rome for the 2022 consistory, or meeting of the full College of Cardinals, on pins and needles about his own plans. He has repeatedly denied following Benedict’s lead and resigning, but the rumors persist.
In an aside during Sunday’s Mass, Francis criticized the poet Dante Alighieri’s decision to place Celestine near the gates of hell in his epic “Inferno,” calling Celestine “the man of the ‘yes,’ not the man of the ‘no.'”
“The Lord is the strength of the humble — not strategies, human means, the logic of this world, or machinations,” the pope continued. “In this sense, Celestine V was a brave witness to the gospel because no logic of power was capable of imprisoning and limiting him.”
Humility, according to Francis, is about having a “healthy realism” with oneself and acknowledging “both our potential and our miseries.” Only through suffering and misery can people truly find compassion and love for others, he says.
On Monday and Tuesday, the pope will meet with the cardinals behind closed doors at the Vatican. Among them is newly elevated Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego, who echoed Francis’ call for a humble church in his homily on Sunday.
McElroy defined Christian humility as “putting aside the pretenses and facades we often erect to try to appear better to others than we are and, secondly, challenging and confronting the impulse all of us have to put our own interests ahead of those of others.”
McElroy flatly denied reports that the Pope would step down.
The 85-year-old pontiff has been suffering from knee pain, which has forced him to use a wheelchair and cancel important events, including a trip to Africa in July.
However, Francis acknowledged on the papal plane returning from Canada on July 30 that he may have to slow down in order to serve the church. He also stated at the time that his resignation “wouldn’t be a catastrophe.”