Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the papacy Feb. 11, citing his advanced age as the catalyst for his decision.

Benedict, 85, is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics across the world.

Benedict began his papacy in 2005 after the near 30 year reign of Pope John Paul II. Of the 265 popes that reigned before him, Benedict is only the sixth to retire. Many members of the Elon community were surprised by the announcement.

“I think it is admirable that Pope Benedict XVI will resign to enter retirement,” said Janet Fuller, Elon University chaplain. “I see this as a gift to the church, to offer the role to a younger and more energetic leader.

Benedict will resign at 8 p.m. on February 28, and there is no set date for the successor to be announced.

“There is a rumor that the new Pope will be in place by Easter,” said Father Gerry Waterman, the Catholic Campus Minister. But as with all rumors, there’s only a thread of truth to that. Depending on the deliberations of the cardinals in the conclave, it could go much longer. “

Sophomore Tim Gilman, who attended Catholic school prior to Elon, found Benedict’s decision to be admirable.

“I even find it noble in some sense,” Gilman said. “I think it takes a lot of courage and humility to acknowledge you are no longer able to serve.

Since Benedict’s time as a cardinal, he has espoused a rigid conservative policy on social issues such as abortion, birth control and marriage.

While Gilman applauds Benedict’s decision to retire, his opinion on Benedict’s stances was not as positive.

“I actually had a few problems with Benedict's rigidity as a pope,” Gilman said. “I think he had a lot of opportunities to promote and stand for social justice but got hampered with less important issues such as birth control.”

During his reign, Benedict appointed 67 of the current 117 cardinals. Meaning it will be very likely that the next pope will continue Benedict’s influence.

“I would be hard pressed to predict what policies or reforms our Holy Father’s successor will enact,” Waterman said. “But I will venture a guess that Benedict XVI’s traditions and practices will be honored and hopefully furthered developed by his successor.”

Benedict had suggested he would be open to retirement if his health did decline, but it still left the public in shock.

“It did come as a shock to the Catholic Church as well as the global society at large,” Waterman said. “Signs of his apparent aging were not clearly apparent to us here across the pond.”

Benedict’s retirement will allow Catholics around the world to prepare for the conclave and mull over his legacy.

Fuller said she hopes his resignation will offer a “new pattern for church leaders to follow.”

As for the upcoming conclave, they will be in the prayers of many, including Gilman.

“I will be praying for wisdom and peace of mind for the cardinals in the next few weeks,” Gilman said.

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