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Faithful await word from Rome
Catholics in Vernon were surprised when Pope Benedict XVI announced that he is renouncing his position and now their prayers are for him and those who will elect his successor, the spiritual leader for more than one billion Catholics around the world.
“This renunciation, or resignation, as some people call it, is highly unusual. It hasn’t happened for 600 years since Pope Gregory XII when there was a schism between him, a validly elected Pope, and others who supported another leader. He stepped down to allow for a new election,” said Father Dale Normandeau, pastor of St. James and Our Lady of the Valley churches, who is pleased to know Archbishop Thomas Collins, a Canadian who could possibly be elected to the highest office in the Catholic Church.
“There is provision made in church law for a pope to resign of his own free will. He can choose to do what he feels is ultimately for the good of the church.”
Pope Benedict XVI, who is 85, will officially renounce the Papacy on Thursday.
“The reason he has given is that his physical health and energies have declined and he doesn’t feel he can give the service to the church that it deserves. I think another reason is that the nature of the Papacy has really changed in the past 50 years. Now part of the Papal ministry is to travel extensively and visit various parts of the world,” said Normandeau, noting that the Pope is more than just a spiritual leader. He is also leader of a temporal realm, Vatican City, an independent entity that is represented at the United Nations and sends ambassadors to other countries.
Once the Pope has officially resigned, Thursday at 8 p.m. Rome time, he will go to Castle Gondolfo, the summer residence outside Rome to rest. Later, he will live in a monastery on the Vatican grounds.
“He will likely spend the rest of his life there, although he can come and go as he pleases and may want to spend time with his brother, who is also a priest. He will likely spend his time in contemplation, study and prayer and may write more books. We hear that he intends to keep a low profile,” said Normandeau.
The College of Cardinals, also called the Conclave, of more than 100 representatives from around the world, will meet at the Vatican about the middle of March to choose a successor. They stay secluded until they elect a new Pope from among their number. By tradition, if they have not chosen a successor, they burn wet straw which produces black smoke and lets onlookers know the voting is continuing. When a new Pope is chosen, dry straw is burned to produce white smoke and the name of the new Pope is announced.
“I think we will have a new Pope by Easter. His first public function will probably be officiating at Easter Services,” said Normandeau. “This is especially interesting to me because this is the first time I have known someone who could be elected Pope.”
Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, is a Canadian whose name is being suggested as a possible successor. Collins was Normandeau’s scripture and Biblical studies teacher at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont.
“He has a great sense of humour. People would tease him about his name but he was fine with it. He was a very good teacher who had a great way of explaining complex ideas and he had great empathy with the students. He was a popular teacher. He would pull things out of popular culture to help us understand concepts.”
Normandeau remembers one time when Collins used a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where a character made a wrong choice and was annihilated by the enemy to the comment, ‘He chose badly.’
“It was an illustration about making bad choices and we remembered it. He was a great communicator and extremely fair minded. He appeared on a Canadian Catholic station called Salt and Light with scripture readings and commentary.”
Normandeau said his parishioners were shocked at the Pope’s renunciation but most of them feel he has done the right thing and they want to express their gratitude to him. While he and many of his parishioners are privately rooting for Archbishop Collins, they are reassured that the College of Cardinals will make the right decision.
“This is not a time of anxiety. I am sure God will provide us with another leader for the universal church. There is continuity. The next Pope will be number 277 in the succession from St. Peter.”
There will be a mass at St. James Church at 10 a.m. Thursday to coincide with the services in Rome marking the official renunciation of Pope Benedict XVI.