Sadness, Shock in Palmer/Forks Over Pope's Resignation
Palmer-Fork residents and Allentown Diocese Bishop John Barres react to Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign on Feb. 28.
Those are the two words to best describe reaction to the news Monday morning that Pope Benedict XVI will resign Feb. 28.
"I'm very shocked to hear," said Kristine Tanase of Forks Township, who grew up Catholic. "I'm sure it was a hard decision and I will pray for his health."
What's your reaction to the Pope's announcement? What has been the impact of his papacy? Tell us in the comments section below.
Benedict, 85, became the oldest pope seven years ago. But due to declining health, he is stepping down.
For Keri Alvigini Cwiak, the news was bittersweet.
"I feel a lot of sadness," said the former Forks Township resident of 10 years who recently moved to Ohio.
Cwiak recalled the day when the pope was selected. She had adopted her son from Russia and watched the pope's selection on Russian television.
"Holding our new son and seeing the white smoke rise above the Sistine Chapel and the ringing bells made the day extra special for us," she said. "In my mind, it was a sign from God."
Allentown Diocese Bishop John Barres said in a statement issued Monday that the pope's decision to resign is "an act of great courage and humility,"
Barres noted that the pope's decision to step down due to failing health came on -- not coincidentally -- the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.
"His contemplative serenity and radiant joy as the Vicar of Christ has inspired the entire world," said Barres, who leads 270,000 Catholics across the Allentown Diocese, including about 67,000 in Lehigh County and 76,000 in Northampton County.
Barres recalled fondly a fleeting encounter with Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome before Ratzinger became pope:
"I have a wonderful memory of going to the North American College in Rome during my graduate student priest days. As I walked down the Janiculum Hill one night, I came upon then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was walking up the hill on the other side of the street. He gave me this radiant smile after his long day and waved. It touched me deeply"
In December 2011, at the Pennsylvania Bishops Ad Limina visit, Barres had "a wonderful and animated discussion with Pope Benedict and I had the opportunity to thank him personally for his recent catechesis on prayer in which he teaches the universal Church the importance of sacrificing deeply to pray deeply."
Some Catholics say the pope's legacy will be marred by the church's child sexual abuse scandal.
Kellie Walenciak of Forks Township agreed.
"The cover-up of child molestation is worse than the crime," she said. "And the cover-up, which has gone on for decades, has Ratzinger's fingerprints all over it."
Rev. Monsignor Stephen J. Radocha, pastor of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church in Palmer Township, could not be reached for comment Monday.
At the Lehigh Valley's Catholic university -- DeSales in Center Valley -- Father Thomas Dailey said the pope's decision is "not your usual retirement."
"The last pope to resign was in 1245, when Pope Celestine V decreed, after just five months in office, that it is permissible for a pope to resign and did so," said Dailey, director of the Salesian Center for Ethics at DeSales.
A more recent "retirement" occurred in 1415, but under duress, explained Dailey.
Dailey feels Pope Benedict will leave behind a legacy of deep intellectualism and return to Catholic doctrine.
"This is a man with a great mind. He combined that great working mind with his faith."
Included in his legacy with be the "Year of Faith," an initiative of Pope Benedict's described by Dailey as "a new evangelization" of the Catholic Church. "Traditional missions bring the message of Christ to those who haven't heard of him yet. This mission is to renew the message to all Christians, of all denominations."
The pope's announcement on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes -- Lourdes is a shrine of healing in France -- may be designed to draw "attention not just to his physical health but his intellectual health and his stamina."
"I think that by making this declaration today, he's calling the world's attention that the lack of vigorous health is part of the human experience."
When asked about whether Pope Benedict "modernized the church," Dailey said:
"It depends on what you mean. He has a website, he's on Twitter, so in that way yes. Otherwise, quite frankly, no. No pope takes his direction from the way the world works."