Norwich — Catholics attending Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick on the day Pope Benedict XVI made history by retiring from his post praised him for his courage in facing reality that he no longer could bear the heavy burden of office.
Others called it “a sad day” that the pope they have known for nearly eight years is stepping down.
The Most Rev. Michael Cote, bishop of Norwich, admitted he is still “stunned” that Benedict has become the first pope in 600 years to step down as world leader of the Catholic Church rather than die in office.
“Today in many ways feels even more stunning than when we first heard the news of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict's resignation,” Cote said in a written statement to The Day. “Today, he will be leaving Rome, and this evening at the appointed hour, he will no longer be Pope. Stunning. Pope Benedict's writings, homilies and initiatives were about love, charity, faith, justice and peace. A deep and lasting legacy.”
Three poster boards with photos, postcards and prayer cards of Pope Benedict stood in the St. Patrick’s Cathedral entrance with the heading: “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”
Father Joseph Tito of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Baltic celebrated the noon Mass Thursday at St. Patrick’s, where several dozen attendees sat amid the scaffolding of a major renovation project to celebrate Mass.
“Benedict described the church as Jesus Christ passing through time,” Tito said during his brief sermon.
“He is now devoting his life to prayer,” Tito said of Benedict, now called pope emeritus.
“I think it was the right decision at the right time,” said Bob Spayne, who regularly attends the noon Mass with his wife, Patricia Spayne.
Patricia Spayne recalled how lightning struck the Vatican dome the very night Benedict announced his plans to retire on Feb. 12. She wondered whether that was just ironic or “divine intervention.”
The Spaynes said they “never” expected to experience the retirement of a pope.
“It’s sad because the church won’t have a leader for a little while,” 9-year-old Maggie Pohlman, of Gales Ferry, said, “and the church needs a leader.”
Jamie Pohlman brought her four young children to Mass Thursday. She home-schools the children at what Maggie called “Angelica Academy.” Pohlman said the pope’s retirement is especially poignant for her family, because they are recent converts to Catholicism, and Benedict is the only pope they have known.
Asked what they would like to see in a new pope, 12-year-old Jakob Pohlman offered a surprising answer.
“I want to see the return of the Latin Mass,” the avid Latin student said.
Joe McMaster of Lebanon said he was impressed with the pope’s decision, calling it consistent with his personality.
“He’s capable and responsible,” McMaster said. “It sets a good precedent for the future for popes.”
Bishop Cote, too, looked to the future in the thoughts he expressed Thursday.
“Today, we now look forward to a new shepherd guiding the Church forward into the future,” he said in the statement. “I join all parishioners in the diocese as we pray for the soon to be elected pope. These are challenging times yes ... but times of enormous opportunity for leadership and faith renewal. We go forward with hope and confidence.”