Pope Francis has revealed that he could have died when he underwent a colon operation last month and has brushed off speculation that he could resign like his predecessor Benedict XVI.
The 84-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church suggested that it was touch and go during the operation in July and said his life was saved by a nurse.
During an interview with a Spanish radio station, Francis said that “a nurse saved my life, a man of great experience” when he underwent the operation on his intestines on July 4.
He said it was “the second time in my life that a nurse has saved my life”.
The first occasion, he said, was in 1957 when as a young man he went down with pneumonia in his native Argentina.
A nurse who was treating him decided to double the dose of medicine that doctors had prescribed to the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio after they cut out the top lobe of his right lung. That decision saved his life, he has recalled several times in the past.
The operation he underwent in July was to address a condition known as diverticular stenosis, or a narrowing of the colon, a common problem in people over the age of 80.
He spent 10 days recuperating in a hospital in Rome after having the operation, which removed half his colon.
During the 90-minute interview with a Spanish radio station, Francis addressed speculation that because of his age and health issues – he suffers from painful sciatica as well as the loss of half a lung – he might choose to resign, as Benedict XVI did in 2013.
Benedict was the first pope to step down from the Seat of St Peter in 600 years – Gregory XII resigned in 1415 in the midst of a church leadership crisis known as the Great Western Schism.
“Whenever a pope is sick, there’s a breeze or hurricane of conclave,” Francis said, referring to the secret election which is held in the Sistine Chapel after the death of a pope in order to choose a successor.
There is no sign that the pope intends to resign any time soon. He has scheduled visits to Hungary and Slovakia next month, hopes to travel to Greece and Cyprus and will attend the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November.
Although resignation may not be likely in the near future, the Pope has hinted in the past that he might consider it at some point.
In 2014 he said the resignation of Benedict XVI had set a precedent for popes to step down and in 2015 he said that the Catholic Church should not have “leaders for life”.
If he were to step down, it would set up the intriguing and unprecedented prospect of having three popes in Rome – two emeritus pontiffs and whoever would be elected to replace Francis.
The Pope’s popularity may dissuade him from any thoughts of resigning.
A poll published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Monday found that 75 per cent of Italians have very high or high levels of faith in the Argentinian pontiff – the highest figure since 2017.
The survey, conducted by pollsters Demos and Pi, found that support for Francis extended across the political spectrum in Italy.