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Area Catholics react to pope's resignation

The Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, met with Pope Benedict XVI last year in Rome.

RELATED STORY: Pope's resignation 'historic,' stunning

When Catholics gathered at local parishes for Mass on Monday morning, many had already heard the stunning news: Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down.

“It was certainly a surprise, but not a total surprise,” said the Rev. John Ziegler, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church on Elys Ford Road in Spotsylvania County.

“He was elected at [age] 78, and even that is the oldest since Pope Clement XII in 1730. He was elected well past the age where most men retire. He was looking forward to [retirement] when God called him,” said Ziegler.

He praised Benedict’s nearly nine years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, which has more than 1 billion faithful worldwide. “His service has gone beyond heroism. It was something sacrificial at his age. I think he deserves our prayers and our gratitude.”

The Vatican announced early Monday at a ceremony to name three new saints that the 85-year-old pope was unable to carry on his duties and would resign on Feb. 28. It was the first time in 600 years for a sitting pope to decide to step down.

Ziegler said many of those coming to Mass “were astonished by the news,” with the realization that the church, once again, would soon be searching for its next spiritual leader. He addressed it in his morning homily.

“We’re praying for the pope and for whoever will be his successor,” said the Rev. Paul M. Eversole, pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Spotsylvania.

“We’re just turning it over to the Holy Spirit, really,” he said, while Catholics wait for the College of Cardinals to gather to elect his successor.

“I would have liked for him to stay for many more years,” said the Rev. Francis Michael de Rosa, pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach.

“I read his announcement to the congregation and prayed the rosary for him.” De Rosa noted that Monday marked the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a place of pilgrimage and healing, and the World Day of the Sick.

“I’m sure he thought about the significance of the day.”

The Rev. James C. Hudgins, pastor of St. Jude in Spotsylvania, also addressed the topic in his morning message about “how God is always present and caring for us in every detail. I gave a little commentary on the news and answered some questions,” Hudgins said. Some parishioners wondered whether a pope could resign. “The answer is yes: It’s happened five times in the past.”

And, what does a pope do and where does he go afterward?

“In the past, they’ve always gone into a monastery; this pope can go wherever he wants. Many think he may go live with his brother, who was also a priest. He’s likely to disappear from public view, much like an ex-president,” Hudgins said.

Another question: Why did this happen?

“People don’t realize the great demands on the pope,” the leader of a global ministry with a sometimes grueling travel schedule.

Hudgins said, “This is actually the best way it could have happened. No one expected it. It was his own idea.”

Debbie Blankenship, business manager at St. Jude, said another staffer told her the news when she came in.

“I thought she was kidding. I mean, that just doesn’t happen. It was very surprising.”

She was moved by the pontiff’s reasons for leaving.

“I think it’s wonderful that he put the church in front of his own aims.”

Helen Huff, faith formation manager at St. Jude, said she saw the announcement on a morning news show, before heading to the church.

“I thought, ‘Wow,’” she said. “I think he’s made the right decision for the church and for himself.”

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431



The Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, released the following statement in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement today that he will resign the papacy:

“As I reflect on the life and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI, I am unfailingly impressed by his serenity; a quiet, peaceful yet certain manner of speaking and acting. This serenity is rooted in his deep faith in the Lord Jesus, a faith that underlies hope and leads to love of God and neighbor. His decision to resign the Petrine Ministry on February 28th reflects this spirit of serenity.

“Certainly, we are deeply grateful for his eight years of faithful and selfless service so evident in his homilies, encyclicals and addresses; in his numerous trips around the world, including his visit to our country in 2008; and his sensitive and pastoral concern for the faithful worldwide.

“Thinking of the welfare of the Church which he loves so dearly and is serving so faithfully, our Holy Father is confident that his stepping aside for the election of a new pope truly will benefit the Church and allow him to continue his ministry of prayer for the Church.

“I urge my brothers and sisters in the Church and beyond to pray for the welfare of Pope Benedict XVI and also to ask the Holy Spirit, Who inspired the Pope’s decision, to guide the Cardinals in the upcoming Conclave to elect a new Vicar of Christ and successor to St. Peter. With a similar serenity of spirit, let us pray for and support the Holy Father each day as he moves forward into a new chapter in his journey of faith. We remain confident about the future, recalling Christ’s words: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (cf. Matthew 28:20).


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