Advisers urge Pope Francis to slow down for a summer break

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c. 2014 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) Pope Francis has been working nonstop since his election more than a year ago, and he has shown remarkable resilience for a 77-year-old confronted with an array of church crises. But he is also fatigued at times and his advisers are hoping that he will take a break this summer.

“We have been asking him to have holidays this year,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras told reporters during a visit to Washington this week. “Because last year he didn’t and sometimes he’s very tired.”

“So I think that during August he’s going to retire to rest,” said Maradiaga, who heads a kitchen cabinet of eight cardinals from around the world that Francis established as his top advisers.

Where the pope might go on vacation is unclear. Popes in the past have always moved to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome during the hot summer months. St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also went to the mountains of northern Italy for a week or two.

But last summer, his first as pontiff, Francis did not take a break and did not even decamp to Castel Gandolfo, a move church officials said was part of his desire to downplay the trappings of the papacy and to save money.

Maradiaga also ruled out the idea that Francis would vacation in his native Argentina. “Not now, because (Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de) Kirchner wants to use this for her propaganda.”

Papal aides say that Francis “eats work,” thriving off the hectic pace, despite the fact that he had part of a lung removed in his 20s and wears orthopedic shoes to help alleviate chronic lower back pain. He is conscious of his limitations, they say, and has occasionally canceled events if he is feeling tired or ill.

But Francis also has a tendency to micromanage and he has a lengthy to-do list, from reforming the scandal-plagued Roman Curia to addressing the clergy sex abuse crisis. He also has to fend off conservatives who are resisting his efforts to make the Catholic Church less bound to old customs and more open and flexible in its approach.

“I have even heard people say ‘We are praying for him (Francis) to die as soon as possible,’” Maradiaga said earlier this year of Francis’ opponents.

Even as Francis’ friends and allies pray for his health and push him to conserve his energy, some conservatives who have been nonplussed by the pope’s reform efforts have highlighted speculation about his durability.

A story at the conservative website Newsmax on the eve of Francis’ three-day trip to the Holy Land last month claimed the pontiff has gained weight since his election and is having difficulty breathing. The article suggested that Francis “may be slipping into a form of chronic heart failure.”

That isn’t a scenario the Catholic right would necessarily welcome.

“What worries me is that if Pope Francis suddenly collapses and dies the stupid conspiracy rumor mill will immediately kick in and we will have a whole new round of accusations about how the pope was bumped off by those sinister conservatives,” the Rev. Dwight Longenecker, a South Carolina priest and frequent critic of Francis, wrote on his blog at Patheos.com.