(02/11/13) - The leader of the Catholic Church is stepping down.
Pope Benedict the 16th made the announcement Monday morning. The pontiff will step down in just three weeks.
Pope Benedict is the first pope in 600 years to step down.
The 85-year-old says he came to this decision after realizing he's not as strong as he used to be.
The Vatican is stressing Monday that there is no specific medical condition that lead to Benedict's decision.
Benedict took over as the leader of the Catholic faith in 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul The Second. At the time, he was the oldest pontiff elected in nearly 300 years.
Benedict's announcement was quit the shock to Catholics globally - and right here in Mid-Michigan.
Catholics we spoke with believe Pope Benedict came to this decision privately, and after a lot of prayer.
Bishop Joseph Cistone with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw was not available for an interview Monday, but he did release a statement.
In part, he thanks the Lord for the 'gift of Pope Benedict', going on to say he lead 'brilliantly and served faithfully.'
He also asks that Catholics pray for the cardinals who will now have to choose a new pope.
We did sit down with Father Robert Byrne Monday afternoon. He's also with the diocese in Saginaw.
Byrne says while Benedict won't have a direct hand in choosing his replacement, he's already had some influence. That's because the pontiff appointed many of the cardinals who will choose his successor.
Here in Mid-Michigan, Catholics are already dealing with a lot of change. Just a few weeks ago, Bishop Cistone announced some parishes and churches would be merging or closing.
Add in Benedict's announcement, and Byrne describes this as an 'exciting' time for Mid-Michigan Catholics.
"Change in the diocese with the parishes is, that change is opening a lot of possibilities. For parishes, for priests, for people. I think this change in the papacy is going to bring a lot of discussions and new energy, and will focus a lot, the church will be in the front pages, in a good way," said Fr. Robert Byrne, of Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.
People in Mid-Michigan can appreciate Pope Benedict's decision.
"I admire him for knowing when he can't do the job in the right way. Or up to the high standards, you know, that he has," said Jane Miner, of Saginaw.
It's not only adults who were taken by surprise with Benedict's announcement Monday morning, however. The next generation of Catholics were caught off-guard as well.
It was a typical Monday morning at Nouvel Catholic Central High School until Pope Benedict surprised everyone.
"Pretty much every hour we've said something about it, so it's a lot of information getting thrown at me, it's kind of all anyone is talking about," said Katie Grover, senior.
It's a lesson in religion and history for Grover.
"Once I heard why he resigned, I think it was really a brave thing," she said.
The next generation of faithful Catholics understand.
"I respect his position for feeling that he can't continue," said Alison Schark, senior.
Two summers ago, Schark saw the pontiff as part of 'World Youth Day'. She now feels a special connection to the man many people only see on TV.
"He has like this peace about him," she said.
Many of these students don't remember the events surrounding the selection of Pope Benedict 8 years ago. Now, it's unfolding before their very eyes.
"It'll be interesting to see now since I'm older. I'll remember better how they'll choose the new pope," said Gabriel Bartosiewicz, senior.
"Eloquent, trustworthy, maybe exciting. You know, sometimes these popes, when they talk it's just, you kind of want them to be exciting, just be vibrant," Grover said.
St. Anne Catholic Church in Ortonville held mass Monday night, and they made sure to say a prayer for the pope.
"I do think it happened suddenly, but I'm not there with him so I don't realize how quickly his health is failing. His mind is there, but in this world that's so fast-paced, he probably decided he better step down and let a stronger man take over," said Jeff Sans, who volunteers with the church.
Father Gerry Frawley says it likely wasn't an easy decision for the pope.
"I think his prayer-fulness and his humility and his strong leadership in some of the most important issues of our time, issues like, especially poverty, peace and respect for life, he was never afraid to speak out on those issues," Frawley said.
Bishop Cistone's full statement regarding the resignation of Pope Benedict XV is below:
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