The news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign his post on Feb. 28 took many in Hamilton's Catholic community by surprise.
“Obviously I was surprised and a bit shocked like everybody else,” said Pat Daly, chair of the Hamilton Catholic School Board.
But after absorbing the news, Daly said he felt a sense of “thanksgiving."
Daly said he sees the 85-year-old Pope's decision to resign due to failing health a “remarkable example of humility.”
In a statement on Vatican Radio's website Monday, the 85-year-old Pope said his health is the reason for the surprise announcement. Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years when he steps down on Feb. 28.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," the Pope said.
Benedict said his strength over the past few months, "has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
For Daly, the Pontiff's decision to resign due to failing health is an example of his “goodness.”
“It shows him putting the interests of the church ahead of his own interests.”
That sentiment was echoed by Bishop Douglas Crosby of the Diocese of Hamilton.
"I really understood it as a pastoral decision."
Crosby has met the Pope several times, and calls each encounter a "remarkable experience."
"He's very hospitable, kind, generous to a fault and thoughtful."
Deirdre Pike, an LGBT activist and a Catholic, says she was shocked by the resignation announcement, as it is almost "unprecedented in the Catholic Church," but adds that she's no fan of the Pope.
"My first reaction [to the news] was, geez, does this mean I can get married in the Catholic Church," she quipped.
"I cried the day it was announced that he was going to be Pope," says Pike. "I knew him as Cardinal Ratzinger and I knew the coverups he was involved with."
'Anyone who had to follow Blessed Pope John Paul had big shoes to fill.'—Pat Daly, Hamilton Catholic School Board
She says she's "relieved" to hear that he's resigning.
Daly won't presume to say how the Catholic Church should proceed in selecting Benedict's successor. But rather he expressed his faith in the “gathering of the Cardinals and the intervention of the Holy Spirit” to make the right choice.
He also added that he admired the humility with which Pope Benedict assumed the leadership of the Catholic Church after the death of Pope John Paul II.
“Anyone who had to follow Blessed Pope John Paul had big shoes to fill.”
For Crosby, Pope Benedict leaves behind an enduring intellectual legacy.
"His spiritual writings and reflections on the economy and on charity, in particular, has been remarkable. You'll find economists and people interested in spirituality will read his work."
Pike sees an opportunity for change in the selection of a new Pope. Her pick for the job: Cardinal Marc Ouellete of Quebec.
She's encouraged by his more progressive relationship to the church and the fact that he comes from a cultural background that recognizes gender equality.
If Pike had her way, the Catholic Church — and by extension a new Pope — would make "transparency regarding sexual abuse, women in the priesthood, and queer Catholics" priority issues going forward.
Bishop Crosby chuckled when asked who he thought might assume the post, saying conjecture is a waste of energy. "It's always a surprise."
The head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Benedict said he was "well aware of the seriousness of this act."
The Pope's older brother, Georg Ratzinger, said Benedict had been advised by his doctors not to make any more transatlantic trips, the German dpa news agency reported. He also said his brother was having increasing difficulty walking.
"At this age, my brother wants more rest," Ratzinger, 89, told dpa.
The last pontiff to quit in office was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to end a schism in the church. Benedict announced his decision in Latin during a meeting with cardinals Monday morning. The move caught even those closest to him off guard.
There will be no pontiff until a successor is chosen, the Vatican said. That selection process is expected to take place in mid-March.
The three Canadian cardinals who will be part of the conclave to pick a new pontiff are:
Any cardinal under age 80 can vote in the selection of a new pontiff. They will be sequestered in Vatican City for a conclave that must be held between 15 and 20 days after Benedict's last day.
Voting will be conducted in secret, and the ballots are burned following each round of balloting. White smoke indicates that a new pontiff has been selected, while black smoke indicates that no decision has been reached.
Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec, is already being mentioned in media reports as being on the long list of possible successors to Benedict.
Formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict was born in Germany. He was chosen Pope by cardinals on April 19, 2005, following the very popular Pope John Paul II.
At the time of his selection as Pope, Benedict was 78 years old, making him the oldest pontiff elected in roughly three centuries.Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years when he steps down on Feb. 28. (Isabella Bonotto/Associated Press)
Reaction to the shocking resignation announcement quickly poured in from around the world. Neil MacCarthy, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said he was surprised but that he understands Benedict's resignation. He called the decision responsible, given the Pope's age.
MacCarthy said he doesn't believe declining church membership or sex abuse scandals led to the resignation.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, praised Benedict's courage.
"It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict's declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage," Welby said.
Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger praised Benedict's efforts at outreach between religions. "During his period [as Pope] there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue," Metzger said via a spokesperson, Reuters reported.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Benedict "reached out his hand to Jews as well as Muslims.... Benedict XVI is and will remain one of the most important religious thinkers of our time."
A bookish pope who did not have the charisma of his predecessor, Benedict was a conservative theologian who tried to rekindle faith in Catholics and remind the church of its traditions.
Benedict's legacy will also be tied to the sex abuse scandal that engulfed the Catholic church. Thousands of people around the world came forward to claim abuse at the hand of Catholic clergymen.
In his previous role, Benedict had first-hand knowledge of the extent of the abuse that had happened. As Pope, Benedict met with victims and prayed with them, but he never admitted any personal failings in handling the scandal.
He also never took action against bishops who ignored or failed to deal with abusive priests.
More recently, Benedict was stung by a scandal involving his butler, who took of the pontiff's personal papers and gave them to a journalist.With files from Associated Press