It looks like the Vatican will soon be under new management.
The Roman Catholic church has been without a pope since Benedict XVI stepped down on Feb. 28, and Cardinals from around the world are gathering in Vatican City to elect a new leader for the world’s estimated one billion Catholics.
A successor could be in office by Easter, but until then, the Roman Catholic community waits anxiously, with nothing but speculation for the future of the church.
“It was a surprise and a shock to most,” said Rev. Brian McNally of St. John the Baptist church in Perth of the decision to retire, noting that Pope Benedict XVI's declining health had been no secret. “He indicated that it was certainly a possibility.”
Still, the retirement breaks a long-held tradition, one that lasted nearly 600 years, which certainly is not being taken lightly. Pope Benedict is the first pope to purposely relinquish his papacy since Gregory XII in 1415, when he stepped down to end the Western Schism, bringing together a faith that was formally divided.
“I think Pope Benedict was wise to do what he did,” added Rev. Rod McNeil of St. Francis de Sales church in Smiths Falls. “The job was killing him. He's been very frail. Pope John Paul II stayed on until he died and others were running the church instead of him.”
German-born Benedict, also known as Joseph Ratzinger, admitted that while his mind was willing, his body was weak.
“Both strength of mind and body are necessary,” said Benedict in his resignation announcement on Feb. 10. “Strength, which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Now, all attention turns to who will follow up as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Quebec is a prominent candidate. The Canadian Cardinal is a local favorite and when asked who he would like to see as the next pontiff, McNally declared that Ouellet's global perspective would be highly beneficial.
“He does have better grasp of his role in the world," said McNally. If elected, Ouellet would not only be the first Canadian Pope, but would be the first Pope elected from outside Europe.
Despite excitement at the prospect of having a hockey-loving pope, McNeil states that North America may not be the best place to be looking.
“The church is very alive in Africa and South America. The people in those countries need someone who represents them. I would hope that they (the College of Cardinals) would be brave enough to consider that sort of change," said McNeil.
Although his papacy was cut short, and he plans on disappearing from the public eye, Benedict's legacy remains.
“He served the lord in a society where that is so daunting,” McNally said. “Now those challenges remain with his successor.”
Page Taylor is a Co-operative Education student from St. John Catholic High School completing her placement with the EMC.