As the cardinals of the Catholic Church meet to pray about and elect a new pope, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend hopes they look to the qualities of the last two popes.
Rhoades said the church has been blessed by the holiness and intellectual gifts of both Pope John Paul II and his successor, current Pope Benedict XVI.
“Both were great teachers of the faith and great pastors,” Rhoades said Monday after a news conference about the stunning news Pope Benedict, 85, plans to resign effective Feb. 28 because of his advanced age and lack of strength.
Benedict became pope in 2005 following the death John Paul II, who suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years and died while still pope.
This is the first time in 600 years a pope has resigned while in office, news reports said. Rhoades said he learned shortly before his press conference that Benedict will be the seventh pope to have resigned during the church's approximately 2,000-year history.
“This is evidently something he thought and prayed about, and you could see it in his statement,” Rhoades told media.
The resignation raises many questions, however, such as what title, if any, Benedict will hold after he resigns, where he will live and what he will do.
In his statement, Benedict said he plans to continue serving the church through a life of prayer. Citing Benedict's great intellect, Rhoades said, “I wouldn't be surprised if he continues his writing.”
Rhoades said he has read Benedict's speeches and transcripts of his Mass homilies each week, and they have been very helpful to him.
“I am going to miss that,” he said.
Rhoades said he has met Benedict five or six times during his time as a bishop, first while bishop in Harrisburg, Pa., and since January 2010 as the leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese.
“I always felt I was in the presence of a holy man,” he said.
Benedict was warm, kind, soft-spoken and devoted his entire attention to you when speaking with you, Rhoades recalled. During his last visit a year ago with other Indiana bishops, Benedict was eager to learn about the church's work in this state and asked a lot of questions.
But Rhoades said Benedict looked a little tired then, and he has seemed visibly fatigued this past year when Rhoades has seen the pope on television.
Rhoades learned of the pope's resignation announcement about 6:15 a.m. this morning after working on his homily for Mass this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.
He believes the church's cardinals, the second-highest ranking clergy following the pope, will meet soon after Benedict leaves office Feb. 28, and the church likely will have a new pope elected by Easter.
“I would ask our people to keep this as a very special intention in their Lenten prayers,” he said.