RIO DE JANEIRO » From the parishes of Poland to the churches of Chile, Roman Catholics around the world were stunned Monday at the first papal resignation in six centuries, even as many prayed for a charismatic new pontiff who could lead the church into a new era after decades of disaffection.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto echoed the sentiments of many Monday when he said, "It was quite a shock. I was like, ‘The pope has resigned?’"
"We received the news with great regret and much surprise," said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who was discussed as a successor to Pope John Paul II when he died in 2005. "This is something completely new for the Catholic Church, though it was discussed during the illness of Pope John Paul II. I didn’t know Pope Benedict XVI would make this decision, but the last time I talked to him, he seemed physically tired."
("Pope Benedict XVI has left a clear mark on the Church in Hawaii in the almost eight years of his papacy," Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu said in a statement Monday.
Silva pointed to his own appointment as one of the first bishops named by Benedict, as well as the canonization of Father Damien DeVeuster and Mother Marianne Cope.
"We will always be grateful for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI," he said.)
A few didn’t consider the resignation bad news at all.
"I don’t care or feel sorry that the pope resigned because he never entered my heart like John Paul II did," said Rosita Mejia, who sells religious icons in Santiago, Chile. "In fact, it’s good that he leaves. He’s done his job, and it’s time for him to rest. In five years outside this church, only one person asked me for a Benedict stamp, while hundreds asked for John Paul’s stamp."
The pope’s announcement that he will step aside Feb. 28 brought reawakened calls for a more energetic successor, perhaps from Africa or Latin America — long considered a bulwark against continued losses in church membership in Europe and the United States.
"Europe today is going through a period of cultural tiredness, exhaustion, which is reflected in the way Christianity is lived," said Bishop Antonio Marto, of Fatima in Portugal. "You don’t see that in Africa or Latin America, where there is a freshness, an enthusiasm about living the faith."