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Area Catholic leaders surprised by pope's resignation

(MCT) — BLOOMINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he was resigning — the first pope to do so in more than half a millennium — surprised people in Central Illinois and across the world as preparations begin for Easter.

Bishop Daniel Jenky, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, said in a statement that the pope's departure will be "a great loss to the church."

"Without a doubt this is a historic moment," said the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a former theology student of Benedict and a papal contender. "Right now, 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath."

While Benedict's resignation, effective Feb. 28, shocked even his closest associates, the decision was seen as a good one by many in an era when the job is very mentally and physically demanding. The 85-year-old pontiff said he waning "strength of mind and body" were not longer adequate to the task of preaching the gospel and leading the church.

The Rev. Doug Hennesy, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington, said he was "quite surprised. ... But upon further reflection, I think it is a very wise move."

Noting that Benedict was around during the physical decline of Pope John Paul II, who was weakened by several illnesses before his death in 2005, Hennesy thinks Benedict "doesn't want to see the church go through that again."

Joy Allen, principal of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, said Benedict has made it easier for successors who feel like it is time to go and someone else can do a better job.

Kevin Sullivan, chairman of the Illinois Wesleyan University religion department, expects a smooth transition because of longstanding traditions for selecting a successor.

Because there will be no need for a funeral or mourning period, the selection of Benedict's successor is expected to move swiftly, perhaps with a new pope installed before Easter.

Sister Diane Marie, president of the OSF Healthcare System, said in a statement, "It must have been a very difficult decision for our Holy Father to make."

She added, "From the perspective of the health care ministry, Pope Benedict will be remembered for his concern for persons and their dignity at every stage of life. He has called for a concrete response to the needs of the sick and poor around the world."

Jenky, who met the pope several times during a visit to Rome a year ago, had noticed the pope looked more tired in recent months, according to the diocese's statement.

Hennesy hopes the next pope will be "someone who is open to the developing world" and speculated "there may very well be a pope from the developing world."

Hennesy said: "I would like to see a pope in the spirit of John XXIII, the pope of my youth. Someone very pastoral, very warm."

Noting ongoing controversies within the church, Allen said the Catholic Church needs "a pope who can get us through that and keep the church intact."

She wants "a pope who represents a spirituality that makes it easy to follow him, one whose faith shines from the inside and leads people and guides them."

Dennis Fries, grand knight of the Bloomington Council 574 Knights of Columbus, would like the next pope to be "someone who has had a lot of diversity in experience, someone who came up from the bottom" and remembers what it's like.

He also hopes the next pope can work with other world leaders to bring greater peace to the world.

The Associated Press and Pantagraph reporter Paul Swiech contributed to this report.

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