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Valley Catholics respect pope's difficult decision

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

A Brackenridge native who met Pope Benedict XVI several times was among Roman Catholics worldwide surprised by the pontiff's decision to resign.

Paul Homick Jr. called Monday's news shocking and historic.

Benedict is the first pope to resign in about 600 years.

In April 2005, Homick was standing in St. Peter's Square, celebrating the papal selection of former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The Highlands High School graduate was completing a doctoral degree in canon law at a Vatican school. He left the ministry and today works at Carnegie Mellon University.

“His decision reflects his love for the church as well as his courage and his humility,” Homick said.

Benedict, 85, cited his advanced years and failing health in saying he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office.

He was selected in 2005 after the death of John Paul II.

Monsignor James Gaston, of St. Margaret Mary Church in Lower Burrell, said he first heard the news over breakfast and was “quite surprised.” Gaston said he has been in Benedict's presence in a papal audience in Rome, but has not met him personally.

‘Wise decision'

“I think it seems to be a wise and appropriate decision for the leader of the church,” Gaston said. “His predecessor stayed on long after he was able to function normally in a very, very difficult position.”

Benedict is a theological scholar and a defender of church doctrine, Gaston said. His strong suit is his intellect, Gaston said.

“All human beings come to the end of their ability to function according to the needs of the role they have,” Gaston said. “It's great witness of the leader in saying, ‘I choose to step down because I know it needs more than I'm able to give at this point in my life.' I respect that highly.”

Benedict recently began using Twitter. And it was on Twitter that the Rev. James Mazurek of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Harrison first heard the news of Benedict's resignation, via a Detroit columnist.

He dismissed it before confirming it on television news.

Mazurek recalled that Benedict, early in his pontificate, said he would consider stepping down if he ever felt physically or mentally incapacitated.

Prediction comes true

In fact, Benedict, himself, predicted a “short reign” in comments to cardinals after his election. Then 78, he was the oldest pontiff elected in 275 years, and there were concerns about his health.

Mazurek said Benedict had referred to himself as a “transitional pope,” the implication being he would not be pope for long.

“Whether that had anything to do with how we got to today, only God knows,” Mazurek said.

Mazurek said he met in private audience with John Paul II, but had not been to Rome since Benedict's election.

While surprise and shock came with Benedict's decision, there may not be the same sense of loss as at the death of John Paul II, who was a charismatic, world-traveling figure to whom many felt closer.

Benedict's style was different — a brilliant “pure theologian” and historian who may have appeared “a little stiff” to the average person, Mazurek said.

“He made many appointments of cardinals, bishops and archbishops who are definitely going to have lasting effects on the church in the United States and throughout the world,” Mazurek said. “Many of those people who will be voting for the new pope were brought on by him.”

A Vatican spokesman said a successor could be elected before Easter, which falls on March 31.

While candidate names will quickly surface, the selection is often an “unexpected choice,” Gaston said. “This is not something easily predictable,” he said.

Considering Benedict's reasons for resigning, Mazurek said he's troubled that two cardinals mentioned as contenders are older than 80.

A youth's point of view

Dominic Montemurro, 17, of Fawn is a member of Mount St. Peter Parish in New Kensington who attended the 2009 National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City. Montemurro thinks age is an important consideration regarding the next pope.

“I think somebody a little younger would be a little better because he could focus better, focus on the job better,” Montemurro said. “Obviously, it would be (better) in terms of traveling.”

“I would say 50 or 60 would be a very good age,” Montemurro said, “because they have life experience and they have a sense of who they are and would better be able to handle the job.

“I think a lot of younger people can relate better to those in their 50s or 60s,” he said. “Somebody in their 80s, they might not be able to follow as well.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or Staff writer Tom Yerace contributed to this story.

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