Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said he was surprised by Monday's announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be stepping down by the end of the month but said it wasn't completely unexpected due to the pontiff's age.
"I didn't expect to wake up to that news this morning, however when you think back, maybe we should not have been too surprised," Wenski told NBC 6 South Florida hours after the announcement was made. "85 years is 85 years."
Benedict made the announcement during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, saying he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties. He announced he would step down by Feb. 28.
Wenski called the pope's decision an "act of great humility" and said he expects a new pope to be installed by Easter. He said people should be grateful for Benedict's service and called the decision a good thing, adding that now the church has an opportunity to thank Benedict for his service.
"He has been a remarkable leader, a man of great intellect," Wenski said.
Wenski also urged people to pray for the next pope.
Members of South Florida's Catholic community expressed similar feelings to Wenski at the announcement
"He has reason to retire," said Joseph Michel, on his way to mass at St. Martha's in Miami Shores. "He is old."
Michel said Benedict ought to retire if he can't handle masses in front of large crowds.
The timing of the pope's announcement was not surprising to Father Fernando Heria of Westchester's Saint Brendan Catholic Church.
"This is the world day for the ill, it's not a coincidence, it's a God-incidence," he said.
Feb. 11 happens to be the Catholic Church's World Day of the Sick – a day when the faithful nurture the ill, and, Heria says, perhaps a day the pope chose to acknowledge his own illness.
"He saw the deterioration of his own body and mind, and I don't think it was a coincidence that in October he called a Consistory to make sure there were enough Cardinals to elect his successor," Heria said.
Benedict made a historic trip to Cuba last March. Carlos Saldrigas, once a Cuban exile, helped organize a Catholic charity trip to see the pope in Cuba.
"It was very moving, and I think the Cuban people will appreciate the visit for a long time to come," Saldrigas said.
The pontiff set a precedent of openness with the island that Saldrigas said he hopes continues with the next pope.
Parishioner Claude La Roche said he thought Benedict was doing a good job and he was disappointed with the announcement.
"All of a sudden now we gotta stop, break everything and start all over again," La Roche said. "We have to appoint a new Pope and he may have some different ideas."
"It's not as if he's a rock star or anything like that, such as John Paul II. That wasn't his personalty, but he will go down as one of the people who saw the real need to get the church's affairs in order," said Barry University professor Ed Sunshine.
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