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Pope Benedict is stepping down today, the first pope in centuries to step down from a position that most others only leave once they themselves depart from this world.
He wants to get back to a life of seclusion, and his ailing health, he felt, made him unfit to remain as pope, and endure the grueling schedule and responsibilities of that position.
Before leaving officially, he will make one last public appearance as pope at the Castel Gandalfo (no known association with the wizard known as Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings"). Then, at 8pm Roman time (2pm EST), his resignation will become official.
He will then be known as "pope emeritus" and wear a plain white cassock, rather than the traditional, all white clothes that the pope wears. He will also be retiring the "shoes of the fisherman", colored red to symbolize the blood of early Christian martyrs. It has been so long since any pope had resigned, and this came so unexpectedly, that the Vatican had to figure out some of this stuff and determine what he would be called officially, and what he would wear.
The Swiss Guards will resign their posts and wait for the next pope, whoever that may be.
Pope Benedict will officially no longer be pope as of 2000 Roman time, and he will walk away from the Vatican. At that point, it will be up to the cardinals who have assembled at the Vatican from all over the world to come to some sort of a decision as to who the next pope should be. Many feel that it should be from a part of the world where no pope has ever come from before - namely either Africa or South America. It would be a sign of the shift of the base of believers from Europe, which was the traditional stronghold of Roman Catholicism, to other continents, mostly through colonization and missionaries.
In his last major address at St. Peter's Square as pope, Benedict said yesterday (Wednesday), addressing his unexpectedly stepping down from a position that many tend to believe should be held until death:
"I took this step in the full knowledge of its gravity and rarity but with a profound serenity of spirit."
He also summed up the tenure of his papacy with these words:
"There were moments of joy and light but also moments that were not easy ... there were moments, as there were throughout the history of the Church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping.".
There were some questions about this pope. He was a conservative pope, holding strongly held, traditional positions on subjects such as with HIV/AIDS, birth control, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. He also at times was criticized for insensitivity towards other faiths, although in general, he tried to bridge the gaps between the religions. This pope also called for nuclear disarmament and greater equality in worldwide wealth distribution.
Many practitioners have hopes that the next pope will break away from the traditional stance of the Church, and open more doors, as they feel too traditional a stance on certain issues tends to drive more and more people away. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.
But there were other questions regarding this particular pope, as well. Unlike the last pope, who had actively resisted the Nazis when Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany, this pope, who is German, became a member of the Hitler Youth, before briefly being drafter into the Luftwaffenhelfer (a child member of the air force). His brother said that Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (the pope) was not enthusiastic about any of it. When the Allied forces drew nearer, he deserted back to his hometown, and was briefly taken as a POW by the Allies, then released after a few months as the war ended, in May of 1945. His involvement, although not extensive, still nonetheless was controversial. He is likely the last world leader that will have any direct associations with the Nazi regime.
Much of the information in this blog was taken from the following article: "Low-key departure as pope steps down and hides away" by Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor for Reuters:
The quotes included in this blog were taken from the article "Pope speaks of "rough seas" of papacy at emotional farewell" by Philip Pullella of Reuters:
I got some of the background information on the pope from the always reliable online encyclopedia popularly known as Wikipedia: