Catholics surprised at pope's decision to step down from papacy

Reactions from Catholic leaders around the world to the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation include surprise and regret, as well as a varied opinions regarding his eventual successor.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Shock, sadness and declarations of faith met Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he would retire Feb. 28, and, as the National Catholic Reporter stated, will move to a monastery of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican. The news also sparked reflection about what kind of pontiff should replace him. Here's a look at reaction from around the world:

UNITED STATES

At St. Andrew by the Bay in Annapolis, Md., the Rev. Jeffrey Dauses said that as the world has changed, so have the demands on the papacy.

"It's not the world of the Middle Ages. It's not the world even of in the earlier part of this century when the pope pretty much stayed in Rome, did everything from Rome," Dauses said. "Nowadays with travel, with the expectations of an incredibly high profile, public life, he's not a young man. I mean, he's at an age where in our culture he would be taking it easy and resting, and we're expecting him to keep this grueling schedule as pope, and he simply had the ability to say, 'I can't do that.'"

HONDURAS

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said he received the news of the pope's resignation "with great regret and much surprise."

"This is something completely new for the Catholic Church, though it was discussed during the illness of Pope John Paul II," the cardinal said. "I didn't know Pope Benedict XVI would make this decision, but the last time I talked to him he seemed physically tired. So I understand that the Holy Father has made this decision coherently and because he can't continue."

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NORWAY

Andreas Dingstad, a spokesman for the Catholic diocese in Oslo, said it may be time for a "youngish" pope, possibly from the developing world.

"The church is growing most in the south. So I think lots of people will be ready for a pope from Africa, Asia or South America. But who knows, it's the early days still," Dingstad said.

SPAIN

Spain's bishops are "affected and (feel) like orphans because of this decision that fills us with sorrow, because his rich teaching and his close paternity made us feel safe and enlightened," said Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

PERU

The president of Peru's Roman Catholic bishops, Msgr. Salvador Pineiro, said Benedict's successor "has to be a pope with much physical strength." He noted that believers earlier were accustomed to the energy of his successor John Paul II, who traveled widely.

"It would make me very happy if the new pope were a Latin American," he added in a telephone interview from the country's Huamanga-Ayacucho region. "Although in Africa, they will ask that he be an African, and those in Rome will ask for a Roman."

NIGERIA

The African nation with biggest Christian population, Nigeria has some 20 million practicing Catholics. In Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, trader Chukwuma Awaegwu put his feelings simply Monday: "If I had my way an African should be the next pope or someone from Nigeria."

"It's true; they brought the religion to us, but we have come of age," he said. "In America, now we have a black president. So let's just feel the impact of a black pope."

ISRAEL

Following the surprise resignation, Israeli leaders lauded Pope Benedict XVI as a friend.

One of Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger, said relations between the rabbinate and the Catholic Church "were the best ever" under Benedict. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, said the pope was a "clear voice against racism and anti-Semitism."

IRAQ

Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, praised the pope and said that in resigning he "is an example, when we cannot serve, to let another one do better."

Sako met with the pope last week and said he noticed then how tired the pontiff seemed.

PORTUGAL

Antonio Marto, the bishop of Fatima in central Portugal, said Benedict's resignation presents an opportunity to pick a church leader from a country outside Europe where Catholicism is more vibrant.

"Europe today is going through a period of cultural tiredness, exhaustion, which is reflected in the way Christianity is lived," Marto told reporters. "You don't see that in Africa or Latin America where there is a freshness, an enthusiasm about living the faith.

"Perhaps we need a pope who can look beyond Europe and bring to the entire church a certain vitality that is seen on other continents."

FRANCE

French President Francois Hollande said Benedict's decision "stirs the greatest respect" and praised the pope "for all the efforts he led in support of peace."

"It's a courageous and exceptional decision. But I can't add any more comment ... We should let the Catholic Church determine how it plans to organize this succession."

BRITAIN

British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament that Benedict "has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See and his visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection."

SWEDEN

Anders Arborelius, the bishop of Stockholm's Catholic diocese, said the resignation would likely make it more common for future popes to step down when they feel too old and frail. "It will probably be a new trend," he said.

Arborelius also said the new pope would probably not be a European.

"A lot suggests that it will be someone from another continent," he said. "The Church's center of gravity has moved from the West to the southern hemisphere."

SOUTH AFRICA

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa told The Associated Press "I think we would have a better chance of getting someone outside of the northern hemisphere this time, because there are some really promising cardinals from other parts of the world.

"It's a question of where is the kind of (and) the quality of leadership evident at the moment: Coming from a growing background rather than a holding or a maintenance background?"

 

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