Shock waves from Vatican City reverberated in Augusta on Monday as local Catholics tried to make sense of the first papal resignation in six centuries.
“It’s odd,” said Karl Stevens, of the Knights of Columbus Council 5484 based at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. “Most everyone expects (the pope) to stay until his death.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was surprising news but respected by many who said they trust the church leader widely regarded for his intellect.
“It’s a sense of wisdom knowing what you can handle and what you can’t,” said the Rev. Scott Winchel, a parochial vicar of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church.
Patrick May, a seminarian for the Diocese of Savannah, said he expected the aging pope would resign in time, but not so soon. News of the resignation spread through the halls of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland where May is studying for the priesthood with others from the Savannah diocese.
“In the seminary, we were caught off guard as I think the whole Church and world was,” May said.
As a young seminarian influenced by Benedict’s teachings, May called the resignation bitter-sweet. Benedict was a strong and fearless leader, but he’s excited to see a new papacy take shape.
“The great thing we can take away from this is (Benedict’s) spirit of humility and discernment, knowing he can no longer serve effectively as the pope.”
The Rev. Michael Lubinsky, a parochial vicar of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, said the Church laity can take comfort knowing that God and the Holy Spirit are the leaders of change.
“(Benedict) has prayed about this and wants to have the strength to carry out his duties,” Lubinsky said.
Lubinsky said Benedict, who was 78 when elected in 2005, had an effective papacy, only slowing down in the past year.
“It’s a good, promising time for the Church,” he said. “He’s had a very fruitful time.”
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Savannah said Bishop Gregory Hartmayer is expected to issue a statement this afternoon following a press conference.