On Monday, Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he announced his plans to resign at the end of the month “because of advanced age.”
On Feb. 28, Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, will become the first pontiff to step down in nearly 600 years.
“In today’s world,” the 85 year-old pope said in his announcement, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of St. 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.”
“For this reason,” he continued, “and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom, I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter.”
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi stated at a news conference that the cardinals will hold the conclave, the church’s process of electing Benedict’s successor, after his official resignation at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, according to CNN.
“Before Easter, we will have the new pope,” Lombardi said.
The church’s 266th pope, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was troubled with the “debilitating scandals” and recognized “how deeply the institution had been damaged” when he was elected on Apr. 19, 2005, according to the New York Times.
Father Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, said in an interview with NPR that Benedict was “very concerned about orthodoxy, about preserving traditions in the church.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Benedict “will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions,” according to the Associated Press.
“The man they called ‘God’s Rottweiler’ for his tenacious defense of church doctrine” will likely serve the Catholic Church in a monastery through a life dedicated to prayer, the New York Times stated.
The Associated Press speculated that Benedict’s successors include Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Cristoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
The Associated Press also stated, “Some push is expected for the election of a Third World pope, with several names emerging from Asia, Africa and Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.”
“Without doubt this is a historic moment,” said Cardinal Schoenborn, a protégé and former theology student of Benedict’s who is considered a papal contender, according to the Associated Press. “Right now, 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath.”
“On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” President Obama said in a written statement.
“The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor,” Obama said.
Cardinals will meet in Vatican City to elect the church’s new leader before Easter Sunday, which, as Rev. Lombardi said, is a potent symbol of rebirth in the church on a day that celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

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