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Pope's resignation shocks local Catholics

Benedict XVI is the first to resign in 600 years

POSTED: February 12, 2013 12:21 a.m.

Area Catholics reacted with shock Monday — much as the whole world did — when Pope Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” said Mike Jones, a Gwinnett County resident and retired deacon at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Flowery Branch.

Popes are allowed to resign, but church law says the decision must be “freely made and properly manifested.”

Benedict, 85, is the first pope in 600 years to step down as head of the Roman Catholic Church. He cited health concerns as his major reason.

“I know that Pope Benedict XVI was ailing,” said the Rev. Eric J. Hill, pastor of Prince of Peace. “He would take days off prior to traveling to prepare and more days off after he returned to rest up.

“I believe that he just no longer saw himself as able to continue in the same capacity as needed for the pope to lead the church.”

Hill said he also believes that Benedict “saw his good friend John Paul II suffer until the end and did not want to repeat that again.”

The Rev. Jaime Barona, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville, said he could see the reasons behind Benedict’s resignation.

“All the problems of the world are on his shoulders, and it’s really rough,” he said. “Besides being a spiritual leader, he is also human. It gets to a point where you might think you can’t go on because (the load) is too heavy.

“It’s not about the pope. It’s about the Holy Spirit and Christ in our lives. So, we can be useful for a certain time, but then we have to let someone else come and fill in,” Barona said.

Barona praised Benedict for the work he had done since 2005, when he was elected to succeed John Paul II.

“He tried to unify the church and put up with all the change in the rapidly changing economic, political and social upheaval that we have faced in our world,” Barona said.

“I think for all of us, there will be a time when we stop, step down and say, ‘I did my job, so (the) next person will come in and do his job.’”

Next up, the Vatican will hold a conclave before Easter to select the next pope. Possible successors are already being mentioned.

Hill said he would be “praying hard for the holy spirit to guide the cardinals to make the best choice.”

Barona said that despite the surprise announcement, “We always have hope that the Holy Spirit will continue to fill in the Catholic Church.”

Tom Walter, deacon at Prince of Peace, said, “I think (Benedict) was a wonderful leader, but I certainly applaud the courage that it took to make this decision. I know it was made with a lot of prayer and discernment.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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