Local flock voices admiration for Benedict's 'noble' decision

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 11:39 a.m.

Cara Koshut and Lauren Kaiser feel like they have a front-row seat to history.

The Duquesne University roommates from Beaver County who are spending a semester in Rome received a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square a day before he became the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to announce his resignation.

“It's really special to know we might be among the last ones he blesses,” said Koshut, 20, a speech/pathology major from Chippewa.

“It was very hard to hear him,“ said Kaiser, 20, of Aliquippa, a speech/language major. “I think he's noble for stepping down ... a lot of people here share that opinion.”

Benedict, who succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005 and will turn 86 in April, said on Monday he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and will resign Feb. 28.

The conclave of cardinals that will meet to replace him will include four Pennsylvanians. But experts say not to expect a first-ever pope from the United States.

The surprise announcement caused Catholics to consider Benedict's legacy and what they want in their next leader.

“He was very different from Pope John Paul II,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik. “Benedict was a shy man, a theologian.”

Zubik, who visited with the pope in October, said he hopes the next pontiff will be “a bold, courageous and strong leader.”

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a Pittsburgh native and Zubik's predecessor who will help pick the next pope, said the announcement won't have much impact at the parish level.

“The life of the church goes on unchanged,” he said.

Wuerl said he will be looking for “a very articulate voice in the continuity (of the church) and someone who will carry on the spiritual traditions that Pope Benedict was focused on.”

Some Catholics are looking to previous popes for inspiration.

“My prayer is that the cardinals will select a pope like Pope John XXIII,” said Ruth Buckley, 83, of Oakland, referring to the pontiff who died in 1963. “He opened the windows to the church, and I want to see the windows opened again. He was more human and more Christ-like than any pope in my lifetime.”

The Rev. Kris Stubna, pastor of St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland, said Benedict's decision to “put self aside for the better of the church ... kind of speaks to his keen love of the church.”

Stubna became a priest in 1985 and spent two periods studying in Rome, from 1981-86 and from 1991-94. During that time at the North American College, then-Rev. Joseph Ratzinger often visited to teach and celebrate Mass.

“He was not only a great intellect and teacher but also was a great pastor,” Stubna said.

Greensburg Bishop Lawrence Brandt recalled a December 2011 meeting with the pontiff.

“I was blessed to meet and talk with Pope Benedict ... and hear him describe his initiatives in the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, which he launched last October,” Brandt said. “These will be lasting gifts to the Catholic Church.”

Jesuit seminarian John W. Peck, the son of Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and his wife, Cindy, attended seminary in Rome during the transition from John Paul to Benedict. He spent Monday morning recalling those days.

“The Catholic Church is a family, and the pope is the spiritual father,” he said. “I feel as though the church has lost its father.”

At the same time, Peck said he was filled with admiration for the pope.

“This was a man who never wanted to be pope in the first place,” he said. “The humility, the realism that it took to make this kind of decision shows a great deal of self-awareness.”

Benedict appointed 67 of the 118 cardinals who will gather Feb. 28 to choose a new leader, according to the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”

Experts don't expect any Americans to be in the running.

“I'd be surprised if there was,” said Richard L. Wood, director of religious studies at the University of New Mexico. The church here has such vast financial resources it is unlikely the cardinals would consolidate all that money and power, he said.

Look for Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria to be on the short list of successors, Wood said. Arinze was mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul II.

Contenders could include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.

Staff writer Jason Cato and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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