Catholics in Augusta gathered to pray on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s final day as pontiff.
As of 2 p.m. today on the East Coast 8 p.m. in Italy, the Church has no pope.
“We will pray for him and the Church on the eve of this courageous decision,” said Bishop J. Kevin Boland, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Savannah.
Boland celebrated a Mass on Wednesday night attended by a few hundred local Catholics at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church in Augusta.
Boland, along with the Rev. Jerry Ragan and priests of the Catholic Deanery of Augusta, offered prayers for Benedict’s successor, the unity of the Church, and the health and well-being of their outgoing pope.
Benedict is the first pope to resign since 1415, almost 600 years ago. He cited both age and health as factors in his resignation, announced Feb. 11.
“We were blessed beyond measure with his spiritual leadership,” Boland said.
Benedict leaves behind a significant legacy.
“He’s the only pontiff who has carried out an extensive study of the person of Jesus Christ,” Boland said. “He will be remembered for his endorsement of the Vatican II documents.”
Benedict guided the church with a “delicate firmness” and rallied for better understanding between people of different faiths.
“Pope Benedict truly modeled the Good Shepherd,” Boland said.
The congregation read aloud from a prayer card and memento commemorating Benedict’s papacy:
“God, our Loving Father, we ask Your Blessing on Pope Benedict XVI upon the occasion of his resignation. Thank you for his years of dedicated leadership in which he faithfully administered the mysteries of your forgiveness and love.”
At the close of the special Eucharist, Boland recounted the last time he met Benedict.
It was three years ago, in St. Peter’s Plaza, with a number of other bishops.
When his turn to meet the pontiff came, Boland said, he couldn’t help but tell Benedict that he had mailed his letter of resignation the week before. Boland, who turned 75 in 2010, had reached the mandatory retirement age of bishops.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You, young. You, young,’ ” Boland said with a laugh.
Benedict retires today at age 85.