Just one week after Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will resign from the papacy at the end of this month, reports have emerged that the leader of the Catholic Church may be blind in one eye and losing his hearing.
Peter Seewald, a German journalist who has written three books on Pope Benedict, including the 2010 book-length interview “Light of the Word: the Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” told German magazine Focus that when he met with the pope at the Apostolic Palace in December, he appeared to have lost vision in one eye, was losing his hearing and looked emaciated.
"I had never seen him so exhausted, so worn out," Seewald said in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera last week, referring to 85-year-old Joseph Ratzinger. "He did not look unwell, but the fatigue that had taken over his whole being, his body and soul could not be missed."
“You cannot define Benedict XVI as a sick man from medical point of view, Seewald said. “However, [he] has the misfortunes of a man of his age, such as fatigue, loss of strength, has problems in one eye and walks with difficulty.”
But in addition to typical signs of aging, Seewald also reported that Ratzinger appeared to have lost a significant amount of weight since their last meeting. “His body had become so thin that the tailors had difficulty in keeping up with newly fitted clothes. I'd never seen him so exhausted-looking, so worn down,” Seewald said.
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Seewald quoted Ratzinger as having said,“I'm an old man, and the strength is ebbing. I think what I've done is enough.” When Seewald asked if he was considering giving up the papacy, Ratzinger responded, "That depends on how much my physical strength will force me to that."
According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 50,000 supporters gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to attend the pope’s penultimate weekly blessing, in which he seemed to chastise the church for the ongoing quarrels that have afflicted his papacy.
“The church, which is mother and teacher, calls on all its members to renew their spirit, turn back firmly toward God and ignore pride and egoism to live in love,” Pope Benedict said. He then asked worshipers to pray for the next pope.
Benedict’s last weekly blessing will be held on Feb. 27; he is scheduled to start his retirement the following day, when he will fly to the papal summer residence. The next papal conclave is expected to confer between 15 to 20 days after that.