Pope Francis wears a face mask during ceremony in Rome
After all his overseas visits were cancelled due to the pandemic, the Pope is set to make what will be his first trip in more than a year. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Pontiff will visit Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and Ur, a city linked to the Old Testament figure of Abraham. The 83-year-old will also head to Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plains, during his trip in March 2021.
But some do not expect it to happen.
Francis took over the papacy in 2013, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI – a controversial move and the first of its kind in more than five centuries.
And a source close to the Church claimed he could do the same thing.
Austen Ivereigh, the former Director for Public Affairs of the previous Archbishop of Westminster – Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor – claimed: “I don’t think there’s ever been any doubt that he will resign in 2020.
The Pope has been at the centre of a 900-year-old prophecy
“He made clear from the beginning that he regarded Pope Benedict’s (XVI) act as a prophetic act of great modesty and he would have absolutely no problem in doing the same."
Mr Ivereigh pointed out a speech made by the Pope where he said he would have "a short papacy of about five years".
But the writer added: "What I’m hearing now from people close to him is that he’s going to need seven years to achieve his five-year plan and that, of course, would mean staying on until 2020.”
The prospect of his resignation will no doubt leave some concerned as it could apparently fulfil a 900-year-old prophecy made by 12th-century Archbishop Saint Malachy.
In 1139, Malachy left Ireland for Rome to give an account of his affairs, where he reportedly received a strange vision about the future, including the names of 112 future Popes.
His prediction concerning the 111th pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was "Gloria Olivae," which means "the glory of the Olive".
The Order of Saint Benedict is also known as the Olivetans, which many claim makes Malachy's prophecies correct.
But his prediction for the 112th and "final" Pope was more concerning.
It read: "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”
The father of the current pope was Pietro, or Peter, and was from Italy even though the family moved to Argentina.
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But there is good news for the prospect of both the visit to Iraq and the future of Earth.
Mr Ivereigh suggested that the Pope may have made his previous comments merely to "signal to those people who do want to see a change in the church, that there isn’t much time".
He added: “Some of his opponents are waiting for him to go and they will be encouraged by this."
Moreover, the prophecy has never been far from controversy.
First published by Benedictine monk Arnold de Wyon in 1595, questions surround why the descriptions of the popes up to 1590 are far more accurate than those after.
Historians generally conclude that the alleged prophecy is a fabrication written shortly before publication and attributed to Malachy.
One theory to explain the prophecy's creation was put forward by 17th-century French priest Louis Moreri.
He believed it was spread by Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli in support of his own bid to become pope during the 1590 conclave to replace Urban VII.
In the prophecy, the pope following Urban VII is given the description "Ex antiquate Urbis" or ”from the old city,” and Simoncelli was from Orvieto, which in Latin is Urbevetanum, the old city.
Mr Moreri and others proposed the prophecy was created in an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate that Simoncelli was destined to be pope.