COLUMBIA — “The Church goes on,” said Hamracek Rastislav, a visiting priest from Slovakia.
Indeed the Catholic Church will go on, but with a new leader.
Pope Benedict XVI announced early Monday morning he would resign at the end of the month. Columbia Catholics were surprised, but felt that the change would not impact their day-to-day worship.
“A new pope won’t change the way I practice,” said Becky Sanders.
Brother Edward van Merrienboer of the St. Thomas More Newman Center said the resignation was rare and unexpected. Most popes die in office, with the last papal resignation occurring almost 600 years ago.
“I think it’s courageous of him, because he’s not well, and he’s getting older,” Merrienboer said. “I think he’s looking to the good of the church.”
After the resignation at the end of the month, the College of Cardinals will gather in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. Merrienboer said he doesn’t anticipate any major deviations in the direction of the church, because many of the cardinals were appointed by late John Paul II or Benedict.
“We’ll see who it is, and there’s a lot of important things the church has to face, but I think the most important is to engage young people in the life of the church so they can find their place, their spiritual way to God,” Merrienboer said. “So we’re hoping for the best.”
“The important thing is who can do the job, who can play this role for the church in the world today,” said Eric Okpeiteha, a visiting priest from Benin. “This is what I want and what I pray for.”
Monsignor Michael Flanagan, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, said the time has come for a pope to be chosen from a developing country.
“The church is growing a lot in Africa, and it would be a reaffirmation that the new word is in Africa and maybe South America, and to recognize that there is growth there.”
Patti Cafano, a Columbia Catholic, does not care what country the new pope is from.
“As global as we are anymore, where they’re from is less important than how they’d lead.”
Merrienboer's hunch is that the successor will be Italian, in their mid-60s, and no more than 70 years old. He said with every election, people speculate that the next pope will be from Latin America or Africa, but he points out that the College of Cardinals is mostly made up of Europeans.
Benedict was widely considered a conservative pope, but Okpeiteha thinks that the church’s doctrine is greater than any one man and will not change substantially under a new pope.
“The teaching of the church is the teaching of the church, never mind the pope,” Okpeiteha said. “The new pope will take all the inheritance of the church and continue and grow.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.