Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Pope Benedict XVI's decision to vacate the chair of St. Peter Thursday is an act of love, made with humility and deep faith, said Tyler Bishop Joseph Strick-land, who oversees some 55,000 Catholics in northeast Texas.
“I am impressed by the humility and the deep faith of this man who has served for the past eight years as Pope Benedict XVI,” said the bishop in a statement on his website, describing the papal role as dual-natured: an office of great prestige whose work “is a tremendous burden.”
“I am impressed that Pope Benedict has seen fit to relinquish all of the 'position' that the papacy entails for what he believes is the good of the Church,” he said.
On Feb. 11, the pontiff announced his decision to retire from his Petrine ministry, which began eight years ago after being named successor to Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.
Benedict is the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to do so voluntarily since Pope Celestine V's resignation in 1294. He cited health concerns as the reason for his decision and said that he will enter monastic life, a life of prayer and medication.
An estimated 150,000 attended Wednesday's general audience in Vatican City, which marked Pope Benedict's final appearance as head of the world's body of Roman Catholics, according to Catholic News Agency.
Since his announcement, however, concern has been expressed over the move, especially questions about having two Popes “leading” the church.
Bishop Edmond Car-mody, a retired bishop of the Corpus Christi Diocese who now serves as vicar general of the Tyler Diocese, said that's not the case.
“I think that there will be no great problem,” he said. “Because Benedict will be pope emeritus – and because he's a very intellectual, very competent man – he knows there can only be one pope. He's really aware that there is only one Vicar of Christ and he realizes that it would not be good for the unity of the church to be involved in administration.”
Unlike the pope, who serves until death or retirement, a Catholic bishop must tender his resignation at age 75.
“The pope does not. It's his decision, which is why this is a great act of humility,” Bishop Car-mody pointed out. “Benedict is 85, he has not been in good health. He has a heart problem and he's got a pacemaker … his energy is depleted. To admit to oneself that 'my energy's gone, I can no longer function in the Petrine ministry' … for a human being to admit he is not capable of doing (something) takes true humility.”
Bishop Strickland described the pope's resignation, “in a beautiful spiritual sense, (is) another example of dying to this world in order to seek the everlasting life the Lord came to share with us.”
Bishop Carmody agreed, adding that this Pope Benedict's action is “very much” a teaching moment.
“Wherever I go, I talk to people who are asking questions about the people, people of all different faiths. The pope is recognized as one of the great religious figures of the world, so people are interested,” he said. “It's a teaching moment: We've all got to face reality that when we can no longer serve (as before), that we've got to step aside to let someone else do it.”
Because Benedict was aware of his diminishing health, “he (said) the right thing for the church today is to step aside (to allow) someone with energy to travel the world and evangelize all people,” Bishop Carmody added.
Benedict will retain his papal name, but will called Pope Emeritus.
During Wednesday's general audience, Benedict told pilgrims that “in recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me take the right decision – not for my sake, but for the good of the Church.”
His decision was made “in full awareness of its severity and also its novelty, but with a deep peace of mind,” he said. “Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own.”
Placing his trust in God – “because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength of the Church” – the pope asked people to remember that “the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and he shall not let her sink.”
Bishop Strickland echoed the pontiff's reassurance.
“The Holy Father's resignation reminds us that the Church continues her journey through history guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said, adding, “the unique nature of our Roman Catholic faith is that we do not ultimately have an earthly head. Instead our head is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. … Whether a Pope dies or resigns it is always true that they are only temporary, the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is our constant.”
The pope encouraged the audience to remember that “God guides his Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the Church and the world.
“In the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that he does not abandon us … and that he surrounds us with his love,” he said.