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North Hills, Western PA Catholic Leaders Express Surprise at Pope Benedict XVI's Decision to Resign

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, formerly the bishop of Pittsburgh, will vote for the next pope.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl said he was so surprised to hear Pope Benedict XVI was resigning that he called Rome to confirm it. 

That is what the former bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese told NewsRadio 1020 KDKA this morning.

Wuerl, now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., will be one of 120 cardinals to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI at a March conclave.

He said the announcement that the pope is resigning, effective Feb. 28, came as "very surprising news", according to KDKA.

Bishop David Zubik, the current leader of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he noticed the pope looking frail when Zubik visited Rome in October.

Zubik, who was assigned to Pittsburgh by Pope Benedict, said he is saddened by the news but knows the pope would not come to that decision without a considerable amount of prayer, according to the Post-Gazette. The bishop added that he believes the resignation demonstrates the pope's love for the church.

The Rev. Joseph R. McCaffrey, pastor of Sts. John & Paul Church in Franklin Park, said he was “very shocked” Monday morning when he received a text message about the pope's resignation. He also expressed support for the pope’s decision. 

“I told the people in Mass this morning, I think it’s a wonderful thing the Holy Father recognized he wasn’t able to do the job and is stepping down,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said he believes the timing is right because Pope Benedict is leaving at a time of excitement. This is “the Feast of Our Lord,” he said—the season of Lent leading to Easter and a time when all Christians come together to pray.

In the past, the conclave to determine a new leader assembled because the pope died, but McCaffrey said this occasion is joyful in many ways.

McCaffrey and Sts. John & Paul Church will also have two connections to the college of cardinals who choose the pope's successor. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered spiritual direction to McCaffrey and was the first priest to preside over Sts. John & Paul Parish when it formed.

McCaffrey said Dinardo also taught him in school, as did Cardinal Wuerl. McCaffrey was in the room for both Wuerl and Dinardo when the pope installed them. For several years, McCaffrey also worked as secretary for Wuerl when Wuerl was the bishop in Pittsburgh. 

“I know both of them very well,” McCaffrey said.

The Rev. Lawrence Smith of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Zelienople admitted he was caught off guard Monday morning when he heard about the pope's resignation on CNN. He said he agreed with Zubik that Pope Benedict is making the right decision.

Noting the many responsibilities and challenges the pope faces as the worldwide leader of the church, Smith said he thought it wise for Pope Benedict to step down if his physical condition prevents him from tending his duties.

“I give him so much credit for that,” he said.

At St. Kilian in Cranberry, the Rev. Charles Bober said Pope Benedict took a courageous step.

"It is noble for a person to recognize that they are no longer able to continue in a ministry because their health or strength does not allow them to give their best," he said. 

On the Cranberry Patch Facebook page, reader Trina Loesch expressed similar thoughts.

“I think that if he can't perform his duties then it's best for him and his health and I am glad he saw that,” she said.

Smith called Pope Benedict an inspirational leader and noted the pope’s work on the life of Christ. In November, Pope Benedict released Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, the third installment in a series following the life and teachings of Jesus, including his conception and birth.

“He’s a tremendously scholarly individual,” Smith said.

Despite the sadness at Pope Benedict’s resignation, this also is an exciting time for the church, particularly because Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season, Smith said.

He noted the Catholic Church could select a new pope in time for Holy Week, which is the last period of Lent prior to Easter. 

“It’s saying goodbye, but its also envisioning through the guidance of the Holy Spirit all that can occur,” he said. 

Already speculation is growing about whom will replace Pope Benedict at the Vatican. Among the contenders is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, who was elevated to cardinal last year.

The Papal Conclave could elect a new pope by mid-March. Although considered a long shot, the 63-year-old Dolan would make a good choice to replace Pope Benedict, Smith said.

"I think Cardinal Dolan is a man equipped with a lot of gifts and abilities," he said.

In the meantime, Bober, who called Monday's news surprising and significant, said he doubts there will be much change for local parishioners as a new pope is selected. 

"The heart of the Catholic Church really is at the level of the parish," he said. "There the sacraments are celebrated and the Body of Christ built up. While much will be said of the Church universal in the coming weeks, the daily life of Catholics will continue through Lent to Easter as it always does."

Click here to see the news section of the Vatican's website.

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