GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WTVR) -- At St. Michael’s noon mass on Monday, there were prayers and quiet reflection as parishioners reacted to the news that has surprised the entire Christian world.
Monday morning, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was resigning as leader of the Roman Catholic Church because of his age and diminishing strength, that has made it difficult to carry out his duties.
Pope Benedict is the first pontiff in 600 years to step down.
It’s a decision local Catholic Zelda Burke believes took great courage.
“I was surprised but then when I thought about it, I thought it took a lot to make a decision like that.”
Parishoner Stacey Thomas reflected on the same sentiment.
“If he feels like he’s not personally able to carry out the duties, then it’s a responsible decision to make,” Thomas says.
At the age of 78, Pope Benedict became the oldest pontiff elected in nearly 300 years. Now 85, the pope says his level of energy has greatly deteriorated.
The pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, told a news agency in Germany that his brother was having difficulty traveling, walking and has been considering resigning for months.
While Pope Benedict has led the church through a tumultuous time, including scandals related to sexual abuse of young parishioners, Father Daniel Brady, pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, believes the pope’s decision has little to do with political or social issues.
“The role has changed, he’s a much more publically visible figure,” Brady says. “John Paul II, in spite of his illness, stayed very visible. Benedict is having much more trouble being able to stay visible.”
Father Brady says he’s sympathetic to the pope’s decision and believes it will set a precedent for future papal leaders.
Parishioner Bob McNerney agrees.
“I think it takes the pressure off future popes so they understand they have options as challenges of the office really press upon them,” McNerney says.
VCU Catholic Studies professor, Andrew Chesnut, believes many Catholics will reserve their more passionate opinions until it comes time for the Roman Catholic Church to choose a new Pope.
“I think they are looking for somebody that has the dynamism and the charisma or John Paul II,” Chesnut says.
Vatican communications advisor Greg Burke told “CBS This Morning” that the pontiff’s sudden departure doesn’t leave a lot of time for Church officials to pick a replacement before Easter.