Local Roman Catholics, like many of the world’s 1 billion faithful, were stunned to hear that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning from the papacy.
Once the initial shock subsided, however, they found wisdom in his decision.
“If you know that you can no longer do the job, it makes sense to step down and let somebody else do it,” said Shawn Roeder, 25, of Kent. “I feel like he has done a good job as pope. He had some really big shoes to fill because Pope John Paul II was so well loved. I was happy that he carried on the tradition of World Youth Day, which was started by Pope John Paul II.”
Roeder, who last year earned his undergraduate degree in exercise science at Kent State University, works as a personal trainer and as building manager at the Newman Center Catholic Campus Ministry at KSU. He said he attended World Youth Day in 2002 in Toronto with Pope John Paul II and in 2005 in Cologne, Germany, with Pope Benedict.
World Youth Day is an international youth-oriented event the Catholic Church organizes.
Roeder, a New London native, said he believes it takes courage to step down from such a powerful position.
On Monday, Pope Benedict, 85, announced he will resign, effective Feb. 28, because he lacks the strength to fulfill his papal duties. He is the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to step down.
The Rev. Ralph Thomas, pastor at St. Paul’s Parish in Akron, said the pope’s announcement sends a clear message that it is acceptable to move at a slower pace during the later years of life.
“As we grow older and live longer, we need to pace ourselves differently. He’s being very responsible in inviting new leadership,” Thomas said. “I think we can all learn from this.
“So many times, we think only we can do a certain job, but we need to be able to get to a place where we realize we have done what we can and now it’s time to turn it over to new leadership,” he said.
Thomas said that although some Catholics initially were leery of Pope Benedict’s conservative reputation, he brought stability to the church in a time of transition. He said he expects the pope to be remembered as one of the church’s leading theologians and as a prolific writer.
Diana Culbertson, a Dominican nun, said she anticipates a mixed legacy for Pope Benedict, who finds favor with conservatives for restoring traditional practice and worship to 21st century Catholicism and criticism with progressives who believe he rolled back the clock on Vatican II.
“He’s a brilliant man, who was one of the most valuable contributors to Vatican II, but he wrote a conservative document that indicated he wanted to put the brakes on Vatican II,” said Culbertson, a retired Kent State University professor. “I am not sympathetic to his moves that allow the Latin Mass, which is not in the spirit of Vatican II, nor that reinforce the centralization of power in Rome while limiting the power of national conferences of bishops to address their own people.”
While Culbertson disagrees with some of Pope Benedict’s decisions, she calls his choice to resign admirable.
“I am grateful to him for recognizing his limitations. He acknowledged that this job is too big for his frailty. What a decent and wonderful decision for him to make,” Culbertson said. “I am delighted, not that he is sick, but that he made such a good, kind, loving decision for the good of the church. It shows humility and courage.”
Patti DeChant, a parishioner at Queen of Heaven Church in Green, echoed Culbertson’s sentiments. She said she is thankful for the eight years Benedict served in the papacy.
“In general, he was very instrumental in bringing us back to the basics. I think some of the core elements of the faith had been lost,” DeChant said. “I know that there is always room for improvement, and I believe that our next pope will move us in the right direction.
“I just think it’s very courageous of him to recognize his frailty and step down. He’s doing it out of love for the church and her people.”
Local Catholic bishops Richard G. Lennon and George V. Murry — both appointed by Pope Benedict to lead the Cleveland and Youngstown dioceses, respectively — spoke Monday afternoon about his decision to resign.
“During his eight years as successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been a courageous voice for the rights of the poor, a consistent defender of human life and a champion of religious liberty for people of all faiths,” Murry said in a written statement. “In his many speeches he has called us to be faithful to eternal truths rather than be swayed by relativism. Through his extensive writings he has set before us a clear invitation to come to know Jesus Christ personally and experience the salvation only he can offer.”
Lennon, too, expressed gratitude for the pope’s service.
“One of my fellow bishops had this reflection on today’s announcement, which I would like to share: ‘Most of us know in our own personal lives what it means to see a parent grow old and decline in ability. That is the sense we bring to this announcement by our spiritual father,’ ” Lennon wrote. “Pope Benedict XVI has been faithful and dedicated to Jesus Christ his entire life.”
Both bishops asked the faithful to pray for Pope Benedict and those charged with selecting his successor.
Roeder said he plans to do just that. He said his expectation for a new pope is that he loves God, the people and the church.
“We certainly want somebody who can lead us in a positive direction and help us grow spiritually,” Roeder said. “I just hope that he can do a good job, and maybe be a little younger, so that he can do it for a longer period of time.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.