Monday's stunning announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would retire at the end of February the first pope in more than 600 years to do so drew surprise and good wishes from several area Catholics and faith leaders of other denominations.
The Rev. Joseph Illo, who is on leave from the Stockton Diocese as he serves as a chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College in Southern California, said he thought the news was a hoax at first.
"It was an immense surprise," he said. "Altar servers at the 7 a.m. Mass told me they had seen on the Internet that the pope had resigned, and I just laughed, wondering what the Internet would come up with next."
Illo, who had met the German theologian several times before Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II, called the pontiff a "quiet, humble, shy man, with a penetrating intellect and an intense regard for every person he meets." Illo said his biggest impact has been to promote "reform of the liturgy, in particular better translations from the Latin and the Latin Mass itself. The sacredness and depth of worship has greatly increased under his leadership."
The Rev. Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Modesto, said, "It has always been the tradition that the Bishop of Rome (the pope) never retires like other bishops, but this is a disciplinary rule which can change. It is not like the dogma of the faith.
"I think this change is inevitable, especially in these modern times when there are a lot of administrative duties that the Bishop of Rome must do for his own diocese. Also, as pope he is expected to be an international diplomat in a turbulent world. I think it is another example of how Pope Benedict has a prodigious intellect and is very courageous and humble. He will be a great 'pope emeritus' who will probably keep writing books and will give wonderful advice to the new pope."
'Immense gratitude' for his leadership
Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire, who is in Washington, D.C., to meet with other leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released this statement:
"I join my voice with those of the Catholic people around the world in acknowledging with immense gratitude to God the spiritual leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. As the successor of Peter the Apostle, he has served the church as an extraordinary pastor, teacher and witness of the Gospel. May God grant him comfort, joy and restful time in his retirement."
The Rev. Chuck Adams, senior pastor of The Carpenter's House in Modesto, said, "Although I'm not a Roman Catholic, I think Pope Benedict's actions reflect his heart of service to the Catholic church, and that, for him, service, not position, is the paramount matter. His estimation that he no longer can perform that service to the standard necessary is a very selfless decision, and reflects his servant's attitude toward Catholics everywhere, and, as such, serves as a model for all who serve, regardless of denomination."
'Man who knows his limitations'
The Rev. Gerry Grossman of St. Francis Anglican Church in Turlock, said the pope's retirement "is a sign of his humility and humanity. Here is a man who knows his limitations and also knows that the Roman Catholic Church requires a fit leader for these times. I wish him a retirement filled with rest and good health."
The Rev. Erin Matteson, co-pastor of Modesto Church of the Brethren, said, "I applaud Pope Benedict for setting a healthy and helpful model for leadership regarding self-care. Too often leaders hesitate out of guilt or thinking, 'They can't live without me,' rather than realizing that stepping aside might be an opportunity for new life beyond me that this time and place may be calling for. May Pope Benedict take care of himself and discover new life, trusting that the Catholic church will not fall apart and also continue to find new life as well."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.