From staff reports
Lifelong Catholic Chris Schremmer, 33, vividly remembers when the man known to the world as Benedict XVI was chosen pope in 2005.
“I was pregnant with Jack and in bed with pretty awful morning sickness, so I watched a lot of the coverage on television,” she said. “It was my first experience with a conclave, and I remember being so excited when I heard ‘Habemus papam (We have a pope).’”
John Paul II was the only pope she had known until that point. She said she believes Pope Benedict stepped into some “very hard shoes to fill and has done an amazing job leading his flock.”
“He is a great source of inspiration and strength for our family, and we are grateful for him,” Schremmer said.
Once again, Monday morning found Schremmer at home watching news of the pope, this time tending two of her children who were fighting an illness. The family attends Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Pittsburg, Kan.
On Monday, the Vatican announced that the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Roman Catholics would be stepping down at the end of the month — the first pontiff to do so since 1415.
“I was shocked when I heard the news,” Schremmer said. “We told our kids and then said some prayers for Pope Benedict and whomever his successor will be. He is only the second one during my lifetime, and historically a pope is pope until his death, so I was not expecting his resignation at all.
“However, he is an extremely holy man, and I have confidence that he would not make such a decision if he did not feel it was what God was calling him to do. We will pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals in electing the next pope, and we will look forward to hearing ‘Habemus papam’ again very soon.”
Catholics around the world shared her surprise Monday morning.
Jerry Rigdon, of Neosho, said the pope is aware that his health is declining.
“It’s good to know that he has the knowledge about when it’s best to leave,” Rigdon said.
Steve Kenny, also of Neosho, agreed.
“He recognized he couldn’t keep up with his schedule,” Kenny said. “Hopefully, it sets a good example for popes in the future to follow.”
Kenny acknowledged that the decision will be a personal one for each pope.
“I think the realization that he can’t fulfill his duties is a very mature thought,” he said.
Mark Johnson, 52, of Pittsburg, initially was surprised.
“But after thinking about it, it makes sense,” he said. “You wonder about, as we all get older, doing the right thing, being able to lead. The father of the Catholic Church must have some charisma, energy, some ability to do that. He must have felt it was time.”
Johnson said the pope’s role is a vital one not just to the Catholic Church, but as a worldwide leader.
Andy Hogenmiller was in grade school the last time a pope was chosen. The Washington, Mo., resident is now a student at Missouri Southern State University, where he is a member of the Catholic Newman Club on campus.
Hogenmiller noted that Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI at the age of 78 — the oldest pontiff at election in nearly 300 years.
He said he hopes the next leader will be someone who brings energy, vigor and “more of a youthful excitement” to the church.
Jana Beykirch, of Pittsburg, praised the pope for making the decision to step down.
“I feel it was a decision of great courage to do so,” she said. “The pope is required to lead under both strength and mind. At age 85, I can fully understand that he feels he can no longer fulfill this great requirement, and I think he did the right thing in his decision. His age is weighing on him.”
The Rev. J. Friedel, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Joplin, said Benedict XVI may have been led to Monday’s announcement after watching his friend and predecessor, John Paul II, struggle with health issues during his final days in the papacy.
Friedel also noted that the church has a rule requiring bishops to submit their resignations when they are 75 — three years younger than the age of the current pope when he was elected.
He praised the pope for the decision and said one of the hallmarks of leadership is knowing when to step aside. Even though Benedict XVI may be resigning as pope, he will remain a world leader, he said.
“He will still continue to lead,” Friedel said. “He will just not be in that particular role.”
Debbie Gorham, secretary at St. Canera Catholic Church in Neosho, noted that Lent begins this week and Catholics will be without a leader for at least part of it.
“We have to pray for the pope and the church and our next, new pope,” she said. “That’s all we have to do.”
Pittsburg resident Donna Orender Landrith, shared her thoughts.
“I quickly learned that his decision is out of love for the church and her people,” she said. “His health is failing, and after much prayer and discernment, he came to this most difficult decision. I will, and I am certain the whole of the church will, be praying for the cardinals as they choose our next successor to the throne of Peter.”