CATHOLICS in Ballarat and around the world will eagerly await the election of a successor to Benedict XVI, Bishop Paul Bird said yesterday.
Paying tribute to the 85-year-old pontiff a day after he shocked the world by announcing his retirement, Bishop Bird said Benedict would be remembered as a prayerful and generous successor to St Peter.
“I saw him in September and while he was very warm and welcoming to the people gathered at (the Papal summer residence) Castel Gandolfo, it struck me then that he was fairly frail and tired,” Bishop Bird said.
“I was reminded just how gruelling the timetable modern Popes are required to follow is.”
Bishop Bird said the German-born pontiff had encouraged believers and non-believers to think about their contributions toward humanity and had acted as a spiritual role model for the world through his prayer and liturgies.
During what was expected to be a routine meeting about future canonisation of saints, Benedict caught the assembled Cardinals and the world off guard by announcing he would resign at 8pm on February 28.
He said his advanced age and the pace demanded of the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics had left him unable to “adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”.
The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415.
Bishop Bird said the move could establish a new precedent for future Catholic leaders to consider retirement.
“More and more over recent decades, the Pope has been expected to have a very direct care for Catholics around the world and for other issues including trouble spots and war and peace,” he said.
Vatican sources told reporters in Rome the Pope would retire first to his summer residence outside Rome, and later to a monastery inside the walled city state.
As arrangements are made for a Conclave to elect the 266th Pope, Ballarat-born Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said the resignation had come as a surprise to him.
“Pope Benedict has always loved the church and worked to do what was best for her,” Cardinal Pell said. “We thank him for his years of devoted leadership and service and his brilliant teaching.
“We will pray for him as he enters retirement. We shall also pray for the church as she prepares to choose the next successor of St Peter.”
Bishop Bird said nothing was certain in the coming papal election but described Cardinal Pell as “an outsider” in a field of potential pontiffs.
He suggested Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, as one candidate with international prominence and respect required for consideration.
Online betting agency Ladbrokes last night had Cardinal Pell at odds of 66-1 to take the post with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana listed as favourite.