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Local Catholics react to papal resignation
In light of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will resign Feb. 28, members of the local Catholic community say though the news was unforeseen, they respect the 85-year-old pontiff’s decision.
Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which overlooks St. Anne’s Parish, said in a statement Monday that like many of the one billion Catholics worldwide, the timing of the pope’s announcement caught them all by surprise.
“His avocation of the papacy didn’t necessarily do so. As early as two years ago he made it quite clear that the resignation of a pope was always on the table,” Ochoa said.
Jeff Gervasi, a local parishioner who has attended St. Anne’s Catholic Church since 1995 and has been an altar server for roughly a decade, said he was equally shocked when he first saw the news Monday morning.
“... and rightfully so. The last time such a thing happened was 600 years ago,” Gervasi said in an email. “Nevertheless, I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s decision to step down due to his age and frailty is not unreasonable. I would think that leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics would be no easy task, even for a younger man.”
St. Anne’s parishioner Felipe Martinez said Benedict has been good to the Catholic community.
“We got to see the pope two years ago when he came to the Americas, and that renewed our faith,” Martinez said. “The next pope that comes in is going to continue our Catholic doctrine and our faith — our faith does not change. It will go forth and hopefully bring the word of Christ and the light of the world, which is our Lord.”
Local reactions were generally supportive. Christine Pozzebon Henry wrote on The Recorder’s Facebook page, “I think it takes a strong person to know when it’s time.”
Pierre P. Mena said that it was “inspiring to see a bishop so humble that he’d give up his position so he can see the church grow.”
“Pope Benedict is not leaving out of laziness or cowardice, but out of humility, and love for the body of Christ [the church],” he said.
While the fallout of the pope’s departure is uncertain, a number of the Catholic faithful are optimistic about what lies ahead for the Roman Catholic Church.
“I think it will lead to a positive outcome,” Rebecca Gervasi, wife of Jeff Gervasi and founder of Walk with Me Family Services, a faith-based counseling center in Porterville. “He’ll get to take part in the selection of the incoming pope which will be a great benefit to our religious community.”
Jeff Gervasi said he things that many people, Catholics included, will be hoping that the pope’s successor will be “more liberal.”
“On issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, and other moral questions. Their hopes will be misplaced, I think, as the pope cannot arbitrarily choose what parts of the Catholic doctrine he will enforce and those he will ignore to satisfy the prevailing winds.”
Bishop Ochoa asked the faith community to keep the pope in prayers, as the last time he saw Benedict was in mid-April of last year and he appeared “fragile” during the Ad Limina Visit with the church’s California Bishops.
“I invite all our Catholics to keep him in our prayers, as well as the 120 Cardinals who will be in conclave sometime in March to elect the new Vicar of Christ,” Ochoa states.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.