TORONTO, Ont. – Catholics are reacting with shock, surprise and disbelief and wondering what may come next after Pope Benedict XVI, 85, announced he was stepping down because of poor health, Monday morning.
Outside Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral, Cardinal Thomas Collins said he was surprised by the news and feels a little sadness, but he will not question reasoning behind Pope Benedict’s decision.
“We knew he had said that if he felt his strength was not up to adequately fulfilling the mission, he would resign, but nobody at all was expecting it (Monday) morning,” he told 680News. “It was just quite a shock.”
“Not having Pope Benedict as Pope is – I think – obviously a great shock for the Church, a loss for the Church in that sense because he is such a great Pope, but each person has to read the time and their own person, and what is best, and that’s entrusted to the Pope to read that.”
“I think it is a matter of his reading of the situation and he made his decision after much prayer, as he said, and deep reflection,” Collins added.
Parishioners also expressed their thoughts as they headed into noon mass.
“He’s a great Pope,” said Helene, who told 680News she was shocked when she heard the news. “It’s just strange that he’s leaving, but he must be tired. You know he’s old, but anyway [he's a] brilliant, brilliant man.”
Carol, 73, assumed like this predecessors, Pope Benedict would be serving to the very end.
“I’ve lived under several Popes, and I never thought any of them would have to quit, even when they were in desperate health and dying,” she told 680News. “He obviously feels he is, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s all done and guided by the Holy Spirit.”
“It’s just strange that he’s leaving, but he must be tired,” another woman said. “He’s old.”
Other parishioners, however, applauded the Pope for making right decision for the church.
“He’s doing what he absolutely believes to be the right thing,” said one man, while another advised people to “accept these things on a level of faith and a deeper level of faith is trust.”
Additionally, some said this is an opportunity for the College of Cardinals to choose a younger, (perhaps) more progressive, modern-thinking Pope for the well-being of the Catholic Church moving forward.
As for the process to appoint a new Pope, Dr. Martin Greig, a history professor at Ryerson University, said first, all the Cardinals under the age of 80 will be required to meet for a conclave.
“The Cardinals have to meet (in Rome) within 15 days following the death or resignation of a Pope to start the process of electing a new pope,” Greig told 680News.
“They hold a ballot and they keep voting until two-thirds majority is achieved, so it can take several days.”
The secret discussions will take place at the Vatican.
Kris Dmytrenko from Salt and Light TV, a Catholic Station based in Toronto, explained that three Canadians are up for the job.
“The retired Cardinal of Montreal Jean-Claude Turcotte, also Cardinal Marc Ouellet who was formerly the Archbishop of Quebec City but who’s now working in the Vatican in a prominent position, and also our own Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto,” he said.
Ouellet is considered one of the frontrunners.
Meanwhile, Collins told Catholics at mass that they should be giving thanks for the Pope’s profound mission and now it’s time to pray for the Cardinals as they choose a successor.
He said Pope Benedict’s influence on the Church will live on “in the extraordinary writings and in the example of his life, that clarity and charity which are at the very heart of his mission as a teaching Pope.”
Pope Benedict is the first Pope to step down in nearly 600 years, and will leave his post on February 28.
The selection process will begin taking place in March, with a new Pope is expected by Easter.