Today the world says goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI. This morning at the Vatican, the Pope met with the over 100 cardinals who will choose his successor. Yesterday afternoon he gave his public farewell. Later today, he will travel by helicopter to the Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside Rome, where he will give his final farewell. At 8:00 p.m. tonight his eight-year reign as Pope officially ends.
Yesterday Pope Benedict rode the Popemobile for the last time. In white robes and the red shoes that symbolize the blood of martyrs (designed by Prada), he gave a startling emotional address to his people gathered at St. Peter's Square. In his remarks, he gave a hint to what really pushed him to become the first pope to resign in 600 years.
The Pope said that he sometimes felt that "the waters were agitated and the winds were blowing against" the church. That's one way to put it! This was an incredibly turbulent time for the church. There were the priest pedophilia scandals, of course. The world is changing rapidly. Gay marriage is becoming more accepted; when it comes to birth control, people aren't even remotely practicing what the Catholic church preaches. Many feel the Catholic church has lost its mission in social justice while it tries to hold the line on moral issues. And for Pope Benedict XVI, it was all too much. Here's one of the most poignant statements from his address:
In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with his light to make me take the right decision -- not for my sake, but for the good of the church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also its novelty, but with a deep peace of mind. Loving the church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the church and not one’s own.
I think it's clear that the Catholic church needs a leader who can straddle both tradition and the demands of a rapidly changing modern world. That's going to take strength -- and flexibility. I don't think Pope Benedict stepped down just because he's old physically. I think he stepped down because he's old in spirit and mind as well, and he knows this. What's more, Vatican gossip suggests Pope Benedict was bullied a bit by the cardinals. Whoever takes his place will need the strength and political savvy to deal with that crew.
But it's up to the cardinals to find that extraordinary man. Are they up to that task? Or are they also too deeply mired in tradition and the past to take on the challenges of the 21st century? Maybe Pope Benedict isn't the only one who should be stepping down.
Do you think the cardinals will choose a younger pope with a fresh vision for the future?
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