In 1294, Celestine V marked history by announcing that he was going to resign, ending a pontificate that did not last four months. His tomb, in the Italian city of L’Aquila, which was hit by a strong earthquake in 2009, is a pilgrimage site for many — even Popes. Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013, left his pallium there four years before making a decision that the Catholic Church had not heard for nearly six centuries. Now, Pope Francis will pass through the same place. Is it a harbinger of yet another resignation?
On April 6, 2009, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale shook central Italy and killed 309 people. 15,000 were also reported injured and 60,000 people had to leave their homes. The city of L’Aquila, the capital of the mountainous region of Abruzzo, was devastated and suffered the heaviest consequences of the catastrophe.
Now, 13 years after the tragedy, Pope Francis has announced that he will visit the city on August 28, cruising through the historic center in a popemobile. The program for this trip has already been released by the Vatican and includes a meeting with families of the earthquake victims and a mass in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, with the opening rite of the Holy Door for the “celebration of Forgiveness”, instituted by Pope Celestine V. , the one who is often referred to as the first in history to resign—although some have done so before.
The move comes a day after the consistory that Pope Francis called for the creation of 21 cardinals, which drew attention to his intention of a future resignation. After all, his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was also in town years before he decided to leave.
Benedict XVI’s visit to L’Aquila
On the day of the earthquake in 2009, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote to the Archbishop of the city of L’Aquila to convey a few words from Pope Benedict XVI about the tragedy that occurred that morning.
“The dramatic news about the violent earthquake that affected the territory of your dioceses filled the soul of the supreme pontiff with consternation”, he said.
“Pope Benedict XVI prays with devotion for the victims, in particular for the children, invoking the Lord’s comfort for the families and encouraging those who have survived and who participate in the relief, through a special apostolic blessing”, the document read.
A few days later, on April 9, the pontiff wrote to Bishop Giuseppe Molinari, marking the day of the funeral of the earthquake victims. “In these dramatic hours in which an immense tragedy has struck this earth, I feel spiritually present among you to share your anguish, to implore God for eternal rest for the victims, immediate recovery for the wounded, for all the courage to continue hope without giving in to discomfort”, he said.
Over time, the city would rebuild itself, but Benedict XVI, who had his eyes set on the devastated area, would go there shortly after the earthquake. On April 28, 2009, the Pope made a visit of a few hours to the region of Abruzzo, passing through several affected localities.
But one place had to be especially marked: the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemagio, in L’Aquila, where the tomb of Celestine V, named as the first Pope to voluntarily resign, in the 13th century, is located. There, Benedict XVI left the pallium — a woolen sash with embroidered crosses, worn over the shoulders — received in 2005, at the beginning of his pontificate.
Less than four years later, on February 11, 2013, the world was stunned when Pope Benedict XVI announced, during a consistory in the Vatican, that he was going to resign — as did Celestine V. Ratzinger’s pontificate, which then ended on 28 of the same month, it was not easy: it was marked by a decrease in vocations, pedophilia scandals and the leak of confidential documents — but it was due to “advanced age” that the decision was justified.
At the age of 85, Benedict XVI was the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. In the announcement he explained that he did not feel in a position to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world, due to health issues, a historic decision poorly understood by many prelates.
However, some people already knew this before. The German Pope made the decision to resign in August 2012, having announced it to the private secretary in December of the same year.
Celestine V, the story of a pontificate that didn’t last four months
Considering Benedict XVI’s decision, the Pope’s visit to L’Aquila was later understood as a harbinger of what would happen in 2013.
As for Celestine V, born in 1215 in Isernia, the story was different. His father’s orphan from an early age, he was attracted to the monastic life and entered the Benedictine Order, being ordained a priest at the age of 24 – but he preferred to live as a hermit on Mount Morrone, in a climate of prayer, penance and fasting, which was later followed by many, known as “Celestinos”. And his fame spread throughout Europe.
Years later, in 1292, Pope Nicholas IV died and 27 months of Sede Vacante followed, as the eleven cardinal electors could not agree on the name of the future Pope.
Celestine, then known as Pedro de Morrone, warned the cardinals: divine punishment was about to arrive, which could only be avoided with the election of the Supreme Pontiff in a few months. Due to his fame, the cardinals did not hesitate: the hermit himself would be the most suitable for the position.
On August 29, 1294, he arrived on a donkey in the city of L’Aquila, taken by Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples, and drove to the great church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, built by him a few years before, and chose the name of Celestino V. He then convoked the first Jubilee in history, known as the “Jubilee of Forgiveness”.
But Celestino’s lack of experience, coupled with the Crown’s need for leadership, made him quickly realize that his Ministry would be short. That’s why he began to think that it would be better to resign — and the idea matured in his small cell in Castel Nuovo, where he began to live.
On December 13, 1294, he wrote the words that led to his resignation. “I, Pope Celestine V, impelled by legitimate reasons, by the humility and weakness of my body and by the wickedness of the Plebs, and in order to return to my lost tranquility, freely and spontaneously renounce the pontificate, as well as the throne, the dignity , the honors and burdens it entails”.
He was succeeded by Cardinal Benedetto Caetani, a specialist in Canon Law, who took the name Boniface VIII and led Pedro to live in the castle of Fumone. And it was there, in his cell, that the hermit died on May 19, 1296. Until today, the mortal remains of the saint — canonized in 1313 by Clement V due to the enormous popular devotion that has always been associated with him — are in the Basilica that is place of pilgrimages.
Despite the destruction caused in L’Aquila by the 2009 earthquake, the reliquary with the remains of Pope Celestine V, which was on the main altar of the Basilica, was recovered undamaged and transported to a safe place. It came back in 2017, when the church finished being rebuilt and reopened.
What about Francis’ future?
In 2014, a year after he was elected Pope, Francis contributed to the possibility of a possible resignation in the future, considering that Benedict XVI “opened a door” by resigning.
“You might ask me, ‘If one day you don’t feel able to move on, would you do the same?’ Yes. I would pray and do the same”, he said at the time.
“I think that Pope Emeritus is already an institution. Because our life is longer and at a certain age we are no longer able to govern well because our body is tired. We may be healthy, but we do not have the strength to continue governing the Church.”, he said, in a comment on the decision of Benedict XVI.
Now, the holding on August 27 of a consistory for the appointment of about twenty new cardinals — among them future electors in the event of a conclave —, at a very unusual time for that, and the trip to L’Aquila, have brought back these memories. of a possible resignation, also considering the health of Francisco, at the age of 85.
However, in early July, in an interview with Reuters, the Pontiff assured that he does not intend to resign anytime soon, despite all the rumors. Confronted with the question, Francisco laughed at the idea. “All these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” he said. “But that never crossed my mind. Not at the moment; not at the moment. Really!”
Despite this, the Pope repeated his position on the possibility that one day he could resign if his health made it impossible for him to lead the Church. Asked when he thought that might happen, he said: “We don’t know. God will tell.”
At the end of the same month, on his return from his trip to Canada, Francisco confided that he should reduce the pace of his travels, due to mobility issues, even mentioning the possibility of resigning – but not for now.
“I don’t believe I can maintain the same pace of travel as before. I believe that, at my age and with these limits, I should save myself in order to serve the Church or, on the contrary, think about the possibility of moving away”, he declared.
During the six-day visit, the 37th international trip since his election in 2013, the Pope was mostly in a wheelchair and appeared to be weakened. Even so, he greeted the crowd aboard the popemobile.
“This trip was a kind of test: it is true that we cannot travel in this state, maybe we have to change the style a little”, he admitted, while confiding that “I would try to continue traveling, to be close to people, because it is a way of serving, of proximity”.
“In all sincerity, it’s not a catastrophe, you can change Pope. It’s not a problem. But I think I have to limit myself a little, with these efforts”, added the pontiff.
Source: With Agencies