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Area Catholic clergy, lay people weigh in on pope's surprise, historic decision to step down

 The Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, met with Pope Benedict XVI last year in Rome.
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Date published: 2/12/2013



When Catholics gathered at local parishes for Mass on Monday morning, many had already heard the stunning news: Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down.

"It was certainly a surprise, but not a total surprise," said the Rev. John Ziegler, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church on Elys Ford Road in Spotsylvania County.

"He was elected at [age] 78, and even that is the oldest since Pope Clement XII in 1730. He was elected well past the age where most men retire. He was looking forward to [retirement] when God called him," said Ziegler.

He praised Benedict's nearly nine years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, which has more than 1 billion faithful worldwide. "His service has gone beyond heroism. It was something sacrificial at his age. I think he deserves our prayers and our gratitude."

The Vatican announced early Monday at a ceremony to name three new saints that the 85-year-old pope was unable to carry on his duties and would resign on Feb. 28. It was the first time in 600 years for a sitting pope to decide to step down.

Ziegler said many of those coming to Mass "were astonished by the news," with the realization that the church, once again, would soon be searching for its next spiritual leader. He addressed it in his morning homily.

"We're praying for the pope and for whoever will be his successor," said the Rev. Paul M. Eversole, pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Spotsylvania.

"We're just turning it over to the Holy Spirit, really," he said, while Catholics wait for the College of Cardinals to gather to elect his successor.

"I would have liked for him to stay for many more years," said the Rev. Francis Michael de Rosa, pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach.

"I read his announcement to the congregation and prayed the rosary for him." De Rosa noted that Monday marked the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a place of pilgrimage and healing, and the World Day of the Sick.

"I'm sure he thought about the significance of the day."

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