Catholics in Guadalajara seemed stunned Monday after learning that Pope Benedict XVI has become the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict cited failing health as the main reason for his decision. The Vatican provides a translation from Latin: “In order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil [sic] the ministry entrusted to me.”
He will continue his duties through February 28, and a conclave of cardinals will meet the following month to determine a successor. While there is no deadline for the election of a new pope, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi in a Monday press conference speculated that the new pope might be elected by Easter.
Gambling websites are already putting up odds on Benedict’s successor. Rivera Carrera leads the eligible Mexicans at 25-1 odds on Irish website paddypower.com, with Italian Archbishop Angelo Scola in front of the pack midweek at 7-2 odds.
According to the 2010 census, 83.9 percent of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic. That makes it the country with the second most Catholics in the world after Brazil. Therefore, Benedict’s resignation reverberates with particular significance among its population.
Just after receiving the news, therapist Mariel Razo called it “sad.” She said that Benedict is “an extraordinary pope, and he still has a lot to give. There’s still a lot of work to do and it would be good if he didn’t retire.” After some time to digest the news, he added some support for the decision, saying, “Primarily though, there should be togetherness behind what Pope Benedict is doing well.”
Enedina Pacheco, a merchant, also praised the pope, calling him “a person who within the Vatican has done an extraordinary job, who has traveled and who has helped many people.” However, she also voiced concern over his decision, saying, “In these difficult times, I don’t like that he would retire, because all of us Catholics are left a little abandoned in religion.”
Raul Viruete Brambila, a talkative vendor of religious articles outside the Basilica of Zapopan went a little further in his criticisms. “He should serve until God reclaims him,” he said. “You know that is until his death. If it’s for health reasons, I think that the servants of the church could support him and he should continue in the mandate of the church until he dies.”
Housewife Alma Vazquez agreed with the overall mood of reluctant support. “Benedict is a good pope, but I don’t understand why he is retiring,” she said on her way into the basilica. Then, she voiced a growing conspiracy among speculators, adding, “It could be for political reasons, they could be intervening to make him retire.” While his papacy certainly saw its share of negative publicity, most are unable to point fingers at the supposed architects of this intervention.
Many younger people expressed support for Benedict’s non-traditional move. Alfonso Hernandez, bookstore employee, called his reasoning sound and his decision respectable. He further praised the pope as “a very intelligent and cultured person.”
His friend and fellow bookstore employee, Adrián Ramírez Muro, agreed. “Being the pope is physically tiring, so if it is for the church, I understand. It’s okay.” He went on also to praise Benedict’s learned intellectual writings, one of the generally agreed-upon strengths of his skill set.
And his successor? “It should be someone else with the same preparedness that [Benedict] has,” said Razo. “Three Mexicans will be participating,” said Vazquez, referring to the three Mexican cardinal electors. When prompted as to their chances at the papal throne, she responded, “It all depends on their preparation.” Ramírez Muro offered a more hands off philosophy. “The next pope should be up to God.”