CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (WWJ/AP) – Benedict XVI has become the first pope in 600 years to resign, ending an eight-year pontificate shaped by struggles to move the church past sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world.
The Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the gates of the palazzo shortly after 2 p.m. EST Thursday, symbolically closing the doors on a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended – a resignation instead of a death.
Now that Pope Benedict has left the Vatican the world’s cardinals will get to work selecting a new Pontiff.
Monsignor John Zenz from Holy Name Church in Birmingham said the cardinals have a long list of qualifications.
“They want someone with energy, vision, a sense of hope; someone who has proven skills as an administrator; someone that can handle the languages,” Zenz said, talking like in the WWJ Newsradio 950 studio on Thursday. “It needs, above all, to be a person who is prayerful and would really convey that.”
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Zenz said, as far where the new pope will come from, the College of Cardinals is a bit lopsided, favoring a specific part of the world.
“You know, half the church is from the southern hemisphere, and if we were going just by sheer numbers, they should have probably more cardinal electors,” explained Zenz. “But the cardinal electors are more from the northern hemisphere – so it’s going to be interesting.
The Monsignor said his favorite is a 55-year old cardinal from the Philippines. He does not believe the new pope will come from the U.S.
In an unexpected address inside the Vatican’s Clementine Hall on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI gave a final set of instructions to the “princes” of the church who will elect his successor, urging them to be united as they choose the 266th leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Benedict tried to dispel concerns about the unprecedented future awaiting the Catholic Church, with one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side. He pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor.
So, what does the future hold for the departing pope?
“He’s actually a scholarly man and a prayerful person, and I think he’s just looking forward to having an extended retreat,” Zenz said. “I’m also wondering about his health. He really seemed to have aged a lot and gotten very frail very quickly, so, he might just not have any energy to do much other than read and pray.”
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