Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign at the end of the month for health reasons—making him the first pontiff to step down in nearly 600 years—is seen as "a supreme act of humility" by a Catholic evangelization center in Madison.
St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Catholic Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard said in a message on its Facebook page Monday morning the resignation of the 85-year-old pope, who was elected in 2005 and is dealing with deteriorating health, comes at a time when many cling to power:
Pope Benedict XVI witnessed the redemptive suffering modeled by his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, and now, in an age where everyone wants to grab and hold on to power and prestige, Pope Benedict XVI relinquishes power in a supreme act of humility. Very exciting times in the Church.
The Rev. Paul S. Manning, executive director of St. Paul Inside the Walls, said staff at the center discussed the news Monday morning and Allan F. Wright, the center's academic dean of evangelization, posted the message on the social media website.
"This announcement was a surprise, but is understandable given the pope's age and his desire to serve the best interests of the church," Manning said.
While Pope Benedict XVI is the first pontiff to resign in hundreds of years, Manning said such resignations could be more common as more people live longer.
Manning said the pope is in full command of his intellectual faculties, speaking and writing brilliantly, but his physical health has been failing.
"Pope John Paul II stayed in office and gave powerful witness to the role of suffering in the life of the Christian," he said. "And by leaving office, Pope Benedict gives powerful witness to, I think, humility and a willingness to relinquish power for the good of the church."
Manning said the announcement would be referenced and prayed about during the center's daily Mass on Monday evening. For young adults who only knew Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, the announcement might "throw some of them for a loop," he said.
His message to them is the church "has been through this before and ultimately God will take care of us," he said.
The Rev. Geno Sylva, the first director of St. Paul Inside the Walls, who oversaw the creation of the center on the campus of the former Bayley-Ellard High School, recently went to work at the Vatican. He will have an up-close view of what transpires as a new pope is selected. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Commission on the New Evangelization, asked Sylva in the spring to assist with the council's efforts in the English-speaking world.
Manning said Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both did what was right for the church.
"At the very end, he (Pope John Paul II) really, really suffered and it was televised," he said. "Some of his last audiences were very difficult to watch because of the level of suffering he was enduring. Both men are doing what they think is best for the church, and I think they're both right."
St. Paul's mission of evangelization is tied to both popes. Pope John Paul II first used the term "new evangelization" and Pope Benedict formed the Pontifical Commission on the New Evangelization in 2010.
Under their leadership, there is a new enthusiasm for the faith and a re-commitment to "living our Catholicism in a compelling way in the world," Manning said.
"I especially sense this in young people," he said. "I do think we're in an exciting age. It's harder to be a person of faith in today's world, and yet I find people more willing to stand up for the faith and to embrace it. In that way it's exciting for me to be ministering today."
Manning also asked for prayer.
"If people are inclined, we can always use prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the cardinals ultimately select a new pope," he said.