SPRINGFIELD (WGGB) — A historic day for billions of Catholics worldwide. The pope said early this morning he will be stepping down at the end of the month.
Mass at the Holy Spirit Chapel at St. Michaels Cathedral in Springfield is a daily occurrence, though today is no ordinary one.
Just this morning, the spiritual leader of the Catholic church surprised many by announcing his resignation.
“I was very surprised like so many people,” said parishioner Jim Lowe. “I never thought that a pope could actually resign. I thought they just died in office so it was quite a big surprise to me.”
“It was a shock,” agreed fellow parishioner Ann Southworth. ”
I’ve seen him on TV and he did seem weaker over the past year or so. I wanted to reach out and help him. God bless him for keep on going for as long as he did.”
Pope Benedict the 16th assumed the papacy nearly eight years ago at the age of 78.
Now approaching 86, he sighted his advanced age and poor health as reasons for his resignation.
Still, some of the faithful here in Springfield just didn’t see it coming.
“He just seemed, you know, up and and everything seemed to be going fine,” said Anne Lynch of Springfield. “I was surprised that it said he was getting weaker over the last several months.”
Springfield bishop Timothy Mcdonnell, who’s 75 himself and offered his own resignation last year, says he understands the pope’s decision. ”The Holy Father is 10 years older than I am, he’s 85, and he says in his statement he doesn’t have the strength, he doesn’t have the ability to do everything that has to be done.”
At a press conference Monday afternoon, he said he prays God gives Pope Benedict the strength to face his physical weakness as he ages.
The Bishop also admitted… like many in his flock, news of the pontiff’s retirement came out of the blue.
“Basically you don’t expect a pope to resign. Well let’s put it this way, the last time it happened was 600 years ago. I wasn’t around for that one.”
Bishop McDonnell says he believes the new pope will be elected by the papal conclave before the upcoming holy week, which is the final week before Easter.