NBC10.com - Christine Maddela
Pope Benedict XVI announced he does not feel strong enough to carry out his duties and will step down as leader of the Catholic Church. This is the first abdication in over 600 years. NBC10's Christine Maddela reports.
Shock was the sentiment shared by parishioners at St. Matthew's Church in Mayfair this morning after learning Pope Benedict XVI will step down as leader of the Catholic Church.
"I didn't see it coming," Judy Griffith said as she stood in the cold rain outside the 9,600 member strong church along Cottman Avenue. "I guess he did what's best for him."
The 85-year-old pontiff made the surprise announcement during a small event in Rome -- saying his age has diminished his ability to exercise the ministry.
"I guess he's tired, physically tired, not emotionally," Dot Sorrentino said as she walked from morning mass. "Your body can only take so much. I know, I'm 80-years-old."
Benedict XVI took over as pope for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics in April 2005. His decision makes him the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. A decision Lisa Cross-Shustuck called "courageous."
"Thank goodness that he is able to come up and say that's he's not able to do [the job]," she said.
Pope Benedict XVI, whose lay name is Joseph Ratzinger, announced his abdication two days before Ash Wednesday -- the start of the holy period of Lent. The Lenten period ends with Easter Sunday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After delivering mass to a few dozen men, women and children, Father Steven Marinucci talked about the news. He gives the pope credit for deciding to step aside.
"Personally, I can understand that because there are aspects of my priesthood that I can no longer fulfill physically," he said. "If it got to the point where I thought it was interfering with my ministry, I probably would retire as well."
Fr. Marinucci says the job is much more than celebrating mass adding that the position has become more demanding in recent years.
"Now the pope has become a person who travels, that wasn't always the case. I think for centuries it was easier to be a pope from the physical standpoint, but now there's certain expectations."
Pope Benedict XVI will officially vacate the papacy on February 28 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The church will then immediately hold a conclave to select another leader.
The Philadelphia-area will be indirectly represented in the election. Cardinal Justin Rigali, the former Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, sits on the College of Cardinals -- the group charged with selecting the new pope.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia says Cardinal Rigali no longer resides in Philadelphia, but serves as Archbishop Emeritus. Archbishop Charles Chaput, the current leader of the archdiocese, cannot take part as he is not a cardinal. There are approximately 1.4 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
While St. Matthew's parishioners were caught off guard and saddened, they're not concerned about who will step in next.
"There's a lot more to the church. I think we'll be OK," said Jen Sonnie. "We've bounced back from other things."
"Faith is saving us," parishioner Maria Carol said. "Doesn't matter who's coming or going as long as we're doing the right thing."
As for Jim Leahy, he says simply: "Just hope we get a good pope."