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Before Pope Francis left for Latin America, the Holy Father dropped a couple of broad hints that his may, by choice, be a short papacy. He might not be in the Vatican for a long time.

The pope, now 78 years old, recently implied that he never felt like he was entitled to the papacy and there are many good people to lead the church. He also suggested that you won’t know it till it happens. He has praised the unprecedented action of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in retiring two years ago, and noted that only God is invincible. Francis and Vatican sources have spoken in the past about his poor health, with respiratory issues.

It isn’t the first time Francis has subtly delivered the message that his time in the Holy See may be short — but he is repeating it now.

Just before leaving for South America, Francis talked about “term limits” for church leaders before an ecumenical gathering in St. Peter’s Square, saying, “There are no leaders for life in the church.” He said Benedict’s action “should not be considered an exception, but an 

Only two years at the head of the Holy See — a strong two years that have dramatically changed the church’s relationship with the faithful in a changing world — the pope is torn, because he knows that the job is not yet done.

His dilemma is, he knows that the work of serving the Church is never finished. That’s called dedication and courage, and it’s exactly what we all need at this time in our history. Look closely: You’re witnessing greatness, even if it’s not around for a long time.

When Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” that simple statement resonated with millions of Catholics and non-Catholics all across the world. Many Catholics who had left the Church for different reasons felt that the pope was welcoming them back home. It was a powerful and uniting message of love. I never thought for a minute that he

was contemplating changing the traditional teachings of the church on concern for life, the family or the poor. After all, this is what we believe and who we are as Catholics.

Do I believe Pope Francis will have a long papacy? No, and the reason is because he does not have a big ego. It’s never been about power for him, but about how he can best serve Christ’s children. When the time comes to leave, he will step aside. He is not in the best of health, and he has mentioned that publicly several times. But like other deeply committed people, even at the height of popularity, it’s about service, not self interest.

It will be a very sad day when Pope Francis steps down, and we don’t know for certain he will. But if he does, I know he did for our church and its people. After all, he is The Servant in Chief.

Yes, it will be very sad for the church and its people. It will also be a sad day for all those people who came back home. He taught us how to love and respect one another once again.

Raymond L. Flynn is a former mayor of Boston and a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.