Pope Francis’s health problems

Michal Martinka

For the first time, Pope Francis came to a public audience in a wheelchair. It was caused by his recent health problems. He suffers from acute knee pain and according to doctors he shouldn’t walk for some time.

It is no secret that Francis in his age (85) is suffering from many health difficulties including acute knee pain. The Pope mentioned it openly with his characteristic sense of humor. “I have an inflamed ligament in my knee. It’s something that comes and goes. They say it only happens to old people, so I don’t understand why it’s happening to me!”, jokes the Pope. He told an Italian newspaper that he was receiving injections to help movement of his joints.

Doctors calls this disease “rheumatoid arthritis” or “osteoarthritis” which is essentially the result of the protective cartilage over the bone wearing down over time. They recommend not walking or standing for too long. In pope Francis’s case it is inflamed ligament in the right knee, which is usually caused by injury, stress, or simply old age. Specialists themselves don’t always agree on the most effective way to deal with this issue. In some cases, they say, the best solution is a surgical implant. “…but in Pope Francis’ case it might be a bit more complicated, insofar as the problem with his knee could also be connected to the sciatica, or nerve pain in his hip, that he’s been suffering from for years…”, said prof. Andrea Conti – expert to orthopaedic.

In April during visit to Malta pope used special elevator for boarding to plane instead of stairs. During the flight back to Rome he explained: “My health is a bit temperamental. I have this problem with my knee which means I have difficulty walking. It’s a bit annoying, but it’s getting better. At least I can go places. A fortnight ago I couldn’t do anything.”

A series of audiences in middle of April as meeting with “Convent of young missionaries” or meeting with Santiago Cafiero, minister of foreign affairs of Argentina, were cancelled by reason of health problems. “The Pope had to lower his activities because of health controls which was necessary today”, said Matteo Bruni, director of press office of Holy See.

During the Holy Week doctors advised the Pope to drastically limit his activities. He couldn’t preside the Easter Vigil ceremony which was celebrated by dean of cardinals Giovanni Battista Re or the Mass for Divine Mercy on Sunday 24 April in St. Peter’s Basilica, celebrated by mons. Rino Fisichella. He hasn’t able to pronounce all message of “Urbi et Orbi” standing and he has to sit down during the reading.

During an audience for Slovak pilgrims in the end of April, the Pope seated in chair apologized for not being able to rise to his feet to greet the guests. “There is a problem, this knee doesn’t work,” he said. “I have to obey the doctor, who told me not to walk.”

On Tuesday was seen for the first time in public on wheelchair in the Paul VI Hall during the meeting with nuns and mother superiors from around the world. Although he has used a wheelchair before inside the Vatican, this was the first time in public.

The question is how this state might affect future papal travels. Over the past nine years the Pope has visited 56 countries: that’s an average of six trips a year. For July is planned a trip to Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan. Later this year the Pope should visit Canada.