'A shepherd must be ready to step down completely from his church, rather than leave in a partial manner,' the Pope said

A good shepherd knows when to step down from his church, and leave completely, Pope Francis has said.

In his sermon during Mass at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence on Tuesday, Pope Francis said good shepherds realise they are “not the centre of history”.

“Whether it’s large history or small history, I am not the centre, I am a servant,” the Pontiff added.

Speaking on the first reading at Mass, Acts 20:17-27, in which St Paul addresses Church leaders at Ephesus, the Pope commented: “A shepherd must be ready to step down completely from his church, rather than leave in a partial manner.”

“All shepherds have to step down. There comes a moment where the Lord says ‘go to another place, come here, go there, come to me.’ And it’s one of the steps that a shepherd must take; be prepared to step down in the correct way, not still hanging on to his position. The shepherd who doesn’t learn how to do this because he still has some links with his sheep that are not good, links that are not purified by the Cross of Jesus.”

Pope Francis commented in 2014 on the possibility of retirement, telling a press conference that Benedict XVI had “opened the door” to Popes choosing to retire.

“I will do what the Lord tells me to do. Pray and try to follow God’s will. Benedict XVI no longer had the strength and honestly, as a man of faith, humble as he is, he took this decision,” Pope Francis said.