YONKERS, N.Y. – Pope Benedict XVI shocked Catholics in Yonkers Monday when he announced he would step down as the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on Feb. 28 due to age and failing health.
Many residents said they were taken aback by Pope Benedict’s decision to resign, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.
“It’s still so recent I can’t put words to it,” Terry Linkowski said after a 12:10 p.m. mass at the Church of St. Anthony. “It was shocking.”
Speaking in Latin, Benedict made the announcement Monday during a meeting of cardinals at a Vatican ceremony. The 85-year-old, who was selected pontiff in 2005, said he was well aware of the seriousness of his decision.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Benedict said, according to transcripts from his Vatican Radio address.
The announcement quickly reverberated around the world and sent shockwaves through the Catholic community. Rev. Leonard Villa, a pastor at St. Eugene Parish in Yonkers, said his initial reaction was concern about the pope’s health.
“I think he’s done some wonderful things,” Villa said. “He is great theologian and I was saddened to learn of it.”
Yonkers shares a special connection with Pope Benedict as he visited the city’s Saint Joseph Seminary in 2008 during a trip to New York. There, the German-born pope spoke to thousands of young people and seminarians about his teenage years living under the Nazi regime.
He told the crowd to be thankful that many in their generation were able to “enjoy the liberties which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights.”
“Let us thank God for all those who strive to ensure that you can grow up in an environment that nurtures what is beautiful, good, and true: your parents and grandparents, your teachers and priests, those civic leaders who seek what is right and just,” he said, according to Vatican transcripts of the address.
Benedict’s announcement early Monday morning has sparked plenty of speculation as to who will take his place atop the Catholic church.
Various online bookmakers have even began to place odds on who his successor will be. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the New York Archdiocese, has been tabbed as a 33-1 longshot of being named the next pope by the British-based bookie Ladbrokes.
Meanwhile, Vatican leaders have said Benedict’s successor will likely be named by Easter, or March 31.
“We just have to pray that God guides the church in the naming of a successor,” Villa said.