Who else plans to spend the rest of their life in prayer in a Vatican monastery, but the first retiring Pope in more than 600 years. Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world and his Catholic followers with the announcement from the Vatican. He recognized his own frailty in deciding to step aside to make way for a younger Pontiff.
His decision makes our visit to the Vatican last fall more meaningful as we now know it came in his final months as the Holy Father. In October he presided over the Canonization of Saint Marianne Cope. By now you know her story, the Franciscan sister who helped found St. Joseph's and St. Elizabeth hospitals in Syracuse and Utica respectively. She went on to care for lepers in Molokai.
During the Canonization the Pope needed a hand to steady himself walking up or down stairs. He spoke clearly, but his voice was quiet. Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham con-celebrated the mass with the Pontiff and other bishops. He noticed the change in Benedict's physical condition since the last time he had seen him several years before.
It is worth noting if you are daring to be a prognosticator for the upcoming conclave at the Sistine Chapel you should bet on the cardinals being more conservative rather than liberal in their selection of Benedict's successor. Even with the changes of Vatican II in the 1960's and the popular reign of Pope John Paul II the Catholic Church as a whole remains a slow moving institution.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded Catholics around the world of the importance of sticking to church doctrine. During his time even the language in the liturgy received a retroactive rewrite. As fewer Americans and Europeans attend church, in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandals and in a world made smaller and faster by technology the church prefers to trudge along setting a standard and not following trends.
Pope Benedict set precedent in announcing a retirement instead of waiting for eternal life to come. Don't count on the 120 voting members of the College of Cardinals to be precedent setting when they gather next month to select his successor.
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