Some Catholics reacted with shock Monday as Pope Benedict XVI announced his plans to resign on Feb. 28, 2013.
The resignation comes during Lent, a time of penance and the liturgical season leading up to Christianity’s most important holiday, Easter.
With his announcement, Benedict becomes the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
Immaculate Conception, Mary Queen of Heaven and Visitation Catholic churches in Elmhurst all belong to the Diocese of Joliet. On Monday, Diocese of Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon expressed surprise at the pope’s decision.
“Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign comes as a surprise to all of us. Yet, it is consistent with the humble disposition that I have come to recognize in him, both in my brief personal encounters with him and in his deportment generally as earthly shepherd of the Church,” Conlon said in a statement posted to the diocese’s website. “He recognized that he no longer had the physical gifts necessary to carry out an office that becomes increasingly demanding.”
According to CNN, a Vatican spokesman said a new pope will be chosen by the College of Cardinals before Easter, which falls on Sunday, March 31, this year.
“Because the Church was founded by Christ and lives by the Holy Spirit, we have no reason to worry about the future,” Conlon said. “The College of Cardinals will be convened a few days after February 28 and elect a new Bishop of Rome in accord with exiting norms. Our task, as members of the Body of Christ, is to seek the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit for the cardinals and to pray for a peaceful future for Pope Benedict.”
The Diocese of Joliet encompasses 120 parishes in Will, Kendall, DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois and Kankakee counties.
Pope Cites ‘Advanced Age’
Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria, was chosen at the papal conclave in 2005 to succeed Pope John Paul II.
In a statement released Monday morning, the 85-year-old pontiff cited his age and physical condition as the reasons for his resignation, saying, in part:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrineministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also suffered from illness during his papacy, in addition to surviving two assassination attempts. In 2003, the Vatican announced that John Paul II had been diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis, along with Parkinson’s disease, an illness that caused him to have difficulty speaking and hearing.
Despite his illnesses, he continued to travel and to carry out his papal duties. He died in 2005 at age 84.
First Pope to Resign in Six Centuries
Benedict becomes the first pope to resign since 1415, when Pope Gregory XII stepped aside to quell a civil war of sorts within the Catholic Church during a time when two men claimed to be pope.
Gregory XII agreed to resign provided that his rival, Antipope Benedict XIII, did the same, in order to pave the way for a new papal conclave and the election of a new pope.
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