Orillians sympathize with pope's decision to resign
Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be resigning the papacy, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years. (QMI Agency/Reuters)
With the end of his rule just days away, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a blessing from his window in Vatican City to the tens of thousands of people packed into St. Peter's Square and millions of viewers tuning in at home Sunday morning.
His abdication was God's will, he said in Italian, insisting that he was not abandoning the Church.
"Actually, if God asks this of me, it is precisely because I can continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love I have shown so far."
Alice Murphy, a member of the Guardian Angels Parish on West Street in Orillia, watched the 85-year-old, German-born pontiff's address on her television set.
"I thought it was marvelous," she said.
"I personally think that if he felt that the was getting older and could not carry on his duties, he made the right decision by retiring."
Benedict — the first pope to step down as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in 700 years — announced his resignation Feb. 11, citing he no longer had the mental and physical strength to lead the Church through a period of major crisis.
Leo Huffman, who has been attending Guardian Angels since 1955, said he was a little surprised by the pope's decision.
"You just never know what's going on in a person's mind," he said.
"Only he knows his reasons and there are probably a lot of good ones."
Benedict would have never resigned "for his own convenience," said Mary Anthony after the 11:15 a.m. mass at Guardian Angels.
Anthony suspects the choice was probably one he thought about for months, at least.
Arline Ransom, a member of the Orillia parish since moving to the city in 1989, said the pope's job has evolved into one that is physically demanding.
"I think what he's doing is the right think for him at this time," she said.
Benedict said Sunday in retirement he will be serving the church "in a way more in keeping with (his) age and (his) strengths."
"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation," he said.
The address was met with cries of "Viva il Papa!" from well-wishers in the square, some with banners reading "Thank you Holy Father."
Benedict's papacy was rocked by scandals of child sex abuse by priests in Europe and the United States, most of which preceded his time in office, but came to light during it. His reign also saw Muslim anger after he compared Islam to violence. Jews were upset over his rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier. During a scandal over the Church's business dealings, his butler was convicted of leaking private papers.
The challenges facing Benedict's successor from around the world will be widespread, from "persecution" to "rampant individualism," said Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, during a press conference Sunday afternoon hours before flying to Rome to partake in his first-ever conclave.
"The pope is beyond any particular country," he said, noting the "right choice" to be the one the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to make.
In addition to Collins, two other Canadian cardinals —Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican bishops and Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, a retired archbishop in Montreal — are eligible to succeed Benedict.
Benedict will hold his last general audience in St. Peter's Square Wednesday.
Thursday, he will meet with the cardinals before flying off to the papal summer retreat.
The papacy will become vacant Thursday at 8 p.m. Rome time.
The more than 100 cardinals from around the world will begin meeting Friday to prepare for a secret conclave in the Sistine Chapel.
The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected by mid-March and then formally installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 to preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.
"I think it's going to be a big surprise for everybody," said Ransom of Benedict's successor, but "when a pope is elected, it's always with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it's always a man for our time."
-With files from Reuters and QMI Agency