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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 13, 2023
Pope Francis prays before the icon of Mary, "Salus Populi Romani," in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome April 1, 2023. (CNS photo/Holy See Press Office)

Pope Francis revealed that he will be buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome in a recent interview. He added that he has abbreviated the funeral rite for popes to make them “more simple,” starting with his own.

Francis, who will celebrate his 87th birthday on Dec. 17, spoke freely about his health, the possibility of resignation, whether he is losing patience with detractors, his future travel program and Mexico in an interview given at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where he resides. He gave the interview to Valentina Alazaraki, the dean of the Vatican press corps for Mexico’s Nmás television on Dec.12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, before presiding at the Mass for the feast day in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The place is already prepared. I wish to be buried in St. Mary Major.”

“The place is already prepared. I wish to be buried in St. Mary Major,” he said, rather than St. Peter’s. He explained that he had decided on this because he said he has a “great devotion” and “a very great relation” to the revered Byzantine Icon of Our Lady, Protectress of the Roman People (“Salus Populi Romani”). He recalled that every time he came to Rome before becoming pope, he would pray before the icon on Sunday morning.

Indeed, on March 14, the morning after his election, in his first act as pope he went to pray before that icon. Since then, he has visited the basilica and prayed before the icon more than 100 times, including always before and after his foreign trips. He also went to pray there on Dec. 8, before going to the Spanish Steps to pray before the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Francis is ever the pope of surprises. In a previous interview with Nelson Castro, the Argentine journalist who wrote La Salud de los Papas, Francis said he would be buried in Rome. Now, he has revealed that he has opted for St. Mary Major’s Basilica as the site for his burial. He would not be the first pope to do so. Six of his predecessors are also interred in the basilica: Honorius III (1150-1227), Nicholas IV (1227-1292), Pius V (1504-1572), Sixtus V (1521-1590), Clement VIII (1536-1605) and Clement IX (1669-1669).

Francis also said that he has worked with the master of papal ceremonies to revise the rite for the funerals of the pope. “We simplified it considerably,” he said presumably referring to the rite that currently extends over nine days. “It had to be done,” Francis said, and added with a touch of humor, “Well… I will be the first to try it out!”

Pope Francis confirmed that his health “has improved” after a recent bout of bronchitis that, on the order of his doctor, prevented him from going to Dubai earlier this month for the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP28. “I feel well, I feel improved. They say that at times I am imprudent because I have the desire to do and to move. But aren’t these good signals?” he said.

“I am quite well,” he insisted. But he admitted to now experiencing “new limitations with the advance of age.”

“I am quite well,” he insisted. But he admitted to now experiencing “new limitations with the advance of age” and “so [they] have to re-think how [foreign] trips are done, even if they can be longer.” He announced that a visit to Belgium is already confirmed on his agenda for 2024, and said there are “two trips outstanding”—referring to plans to visit Argentina and Polynesia (a trip that Vatican officials told America would probably take him to Indonesia, Singapore and Papua New Guinea).

“We will see how things go,” the pope said without confirming the two longer journeys. Francis did say that Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, had formally invited him to visit his homeland. On the campaign trail, Mr. Milei had strongly criticized the pope, but Francis has dismissed this as part of the campaigning. Francis instead praised the new president for committing himself to politics, which the pope has called a work of charity. Indeed, they spoke on the phone two days after Mr. Milei’s election, and the pope praised his courage and urged him to pray to God for wisdom in his new role.

Asked in the interview whether he has considered resigning because of his health problems over the past two years, Francis said, “It has not occurred to me.” In other words, he does not see resignation as something the Lord is asking of him at the present time. Indeed, in a recent interview, he said he saw the papacy as a role for life. But he acknowledged that resignation is a possibility. He said he greatly admired the courage of Benedict XVI in doing so and saw that also as “an example” for him to follow if the Lord so wishes.

When asked whether he has become “harder” on those who oppose his leadership, he said that fathers who do not discipline their children are "failing in some way.” Nevertheless, he said, “people are very good in themselves. But I am somewhat complicated, and they support me, they back me. People in the [Roman] Curia are very good.” When it was put to him that he is now “less severe” with those in the Curia, he smiled and said, “It’s also that grandfathers become much more gentle, and that’s part of becoming older!”

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