Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will step down from his position Feb. 28, citing failing strength of “mind and body."
He will be the first pontiff to resign since 1415, the Washington Post reports.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," the Pope said in a statement.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark 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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now 85, was selected in April 2005 after the death of the very popular and charismatic Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict was 78 at the time - the oldest person in more than 200 years chosen to head the church.
Benedict's reign has been distracted by clerical abuse scandals and Vatican internal struggles.
Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington (which includes Fairfax County churches), said he urges "my brothers and sisters in the Church and beyond to pray for the welfare of Pope Benedict XVI and also to ask the Holy Spirit, Who inspired the Pope’s decision, to guide the Cardinals in the upcoming Conclave to elect a new Vicar of Christ and successor to St. Peter."
“Certainly, we are deeply grateful for his eight years of faithful and selfless service so evident in his homilies, encyclicals and addresses; in his numerous trips around the world, including his visit to our country in 2008; and his sensitive and pastoral concern for the faithful world-wide, Loverde said. "Thinking of the welfare of the Church which he loves so dearly and is serving so faithfully, our Holy Father is confident that his stepping aside for the election of a new pope truly will benefit the Church and allow him to continue his ministry of prayer for the Church."
What's your reaction to the news? What should the Cardinals look for in the next Pope? Will we see the first non-European pontiff? How will the change affect Catholics around the world and right in your Northern Virginia church? Tell us in the comments below.