Pope showing signs of aging, continues to keep a hectic schedule.
Those closest to Pope Benedict XVI have observed that he is showing the signs of aging. The Holy Father is 84 years old, and will turn 85 on April 16. The demands and the rigors of the job with an Emperor's responsibility, would be a herculean task for even a young man. But motivated by Spirit and responsibility, Benedict continues to keep a busy schedule.
By all indications, the 84-year-old Holy Father is in excellent health. He has not recently taken any sick days, and although he has pared down some of his activities, he continues to keep a schedule that would make a veteran jet setting executive sweat. This appears to many as a minor miracle in itself.
In November, Benedict visited West Africa on a three-day trip during which he braved 90+ degree temperatures and high humidity to meet with dignitaries and address the faithful. By all accounts, he was lively and in top form. But those closest to him, explain that the Holy Father was exhausted by the visit.
Observers have reported that the Holy Father does not elaborate off-the-cuff as much as he used to, and that on some days he appears just plain tired.
Rabbi David Rosen, head of interfaith relations at the American Jewish Committee stated recently "Indeed I was struck by what appeared to me as the decline in Benedict's strength and health over the last half year. He looks thinner and weaker... which made the effort he put into the Assisi shindig with the extraordinary degree of personal attention to the attendees (especially the next day in Rome) all the more remarkable."
In the book "Light of the World," released November 2010, Benedict made a statement which piqued the interest of followers. In the book he said, " If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."
Observers speculate that Benedict may have taken this view as he worked closely with Pope John Paul II, and witnessed John Paul's declining health at the end of his papacy.
However, the notion of a pope resigning is anathema to many Catholics. The last time a pope resigned was in 1415, and the resignation helped to end the Great Western Schism, a period in which popes and anti-popes ruled opposing halves of Europe.
If Benedict were to step down, even willingly and consciously, it could raise the possibility of instability and division within the normally unified church. It could also set a precedent that future popes might be more likely to follow, resigning at the first hint of trouble.
Benedict made clear that one should not resign in the face of adversity. In the same book he said, "One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it."
In light of these views, it is unlikely that the Holy Father will step down anytime soon. But it is understood that he is aging normally and fatiguing more easily. The good news is, he appears possessed of the supernatural ability to keep moving and guiding the flock.
Benedict has scheduled visits to Cuba and Mexico for early 2012, and is already planning to visit Rio de Janeiro in 2013 for the next World Youth Day.