Pope Benedict XVI's sudden decision to resign his post—the first pontiff to do so in 600 years—due to health concerns surely took many local Catholics by surprise.
Dr. Linda Dix, director of religious education at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC), said she and others were "shocked" by the announcement Monday. But it was the right decision, both for the pope and for the church.
"It says a lot about his wisdom and his regard for the office," she said.
Benedict's resignation is effective Feb. 28. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
Though there are no clear front-runners, there's already plenty of speculation as to who Benedict's replacement will be. Dix mentioned that some people have expressed interest in possibly having a younger, more progressive pope and noted that one of the major themes that came out of Vatican II was "Reading the Signs of the Times."
"We all hope that we have an evolving church. I think that's just a common understanding," she said. "We have great hope for the future. With every change, there's great hope."
Benedict was scheduled to visit Philadelphia in 2015 for the Vatican World Meeting of Families. There's no word on whether plans will change due to Benedict's resignation
"It'll depend on who (the new pope) is and where they find themselves with the responsibilities that they have," said Dix.
Bishop David M. O'Connell, of the Diocese of Trenton, said while he was saddened by the announcement of Benedict's resignation, "I think we can all see the courage and devotion of this great man to our Church and to the ministry of Peter that he would hand over the reins of the Church to someone stronger and more vibrant than he at the age of nearly 86."
O'Connell described Benedict as having "an incredible ability to make the most profound and intense aspects of our faith clear and accessible not only to Catholics, but to all people ... In my mind, he was an absolutely inspired choice to succeed Pope John Paul II, both for his theological teaching and for his fatherly pastoral presence. I have always found him to be gentle and kind, despite the contrary perception created by some."
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who served as the Bishop of Rome from 1406 to 1415. According to Dix, he resigned to resolve a dispute over who should lead the Catholic Church at the time of the Western Schism.
Other popes to resign, according to Dix, include Celestine V, Gregory VI, Benedict IX, Benedict V, Martin I, Marcellinus and Pontian.
What do you think of Pope Benedict's resignation? Who should the Church pick as his successor? Share your thoughts in the comments below.