The Daily Southerner
ROCKY MOUNT —
Catholics today are celebrating Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy season leading up to Easter, but many are still reeling from the shock of their leader, Pope Benedict XVI’s, announcement of his Feb. 28 abdication.
“I was surprised, that’s for sure,” said Father Frank Raffo, priest at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Tarboro. The news of the pope’s abdication popped up on the MSN news feed on his computer Monday morning.
“It was a big surprise to me,” said Ed Kilby, a member of St. Catherine of Siena. He noted that this is the third time in history that a pope named Benedict has resigned.
Once elected as Roman pontiff (pope), most popes lead the Church until their death. Pope Benedict XVI will be the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Despite his initial shock, Raffo said he understands the 85-year-old pope’s decision to step down as leader of the church.
“I think he’s a pretty wise man,” Raffo said. “It’s clear his thought is for his church and not for himself.”
In a speech delivered in Latin at a meeting in the Vatican, the pope stated, ”I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
“He did an excellent job,” Kilby said. “I guess he wore out soon and he feels like he can’t physically or mentally handle it anymore.”
Raffo recalls reading about the pope’s “grueling schedule” and is confident that the pope’s decision to abdicate is based on his belief that a younger man would be better able to accomplish the church’s programs.
“His whole agenda is a challenging agenda,” said Raffo. “From the time he gets up in the morning, he’s doing a lot.”
Overall, Raffo said he is pleased with the pope’s leadership of the Church.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job,” said the priest. “He had more of a grasp of the Curia (cardinals that advise him) than other popes. When he was elected, the idea was that he would organize them. He did a fabulous job with the enforcing of the doctrines of the Church – the Liturgy…”
Pope Benedict XVI has garnered praise from conservative Catholics and skepticism from liberals. He has also encountered adversity during his time as head of the largest church in the world.
“He’s faced some difficult situations…the (2008) sex abuse scandal, especially in Ireland – that was a tough one,” said Raffo.
The Vatican says that Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will be elected before Easter Sunday, on March 31.
“I get a feeling that it might be one from somewhere in South America,” Kilby said. He said his hope is that the next pope will lead the Church like Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor, John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 until his death in 2005.
“It’ll all work out. God is good,” Kilby said.