Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
Hey, Pope Benedict is resigning,” said sophomore Christina Davis to a fellow student in her 8 a.m. Western Civilization II class on Monday. “We’re going to have a new pope.”
“Wait, what?” the classmate responded.
Similar comments and reactions filled conversations, Facebook feeds, and text messages early that morning as the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of resignation spread.
The Pope made the announcement on Monday morning (Italian time) during an address to a gathering of cardinals, citing his increasingly inadequate strength to keep up with the job.
“In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome,” the pope said in his official statement.
Pope Benedict will vacate the See of Peter on Feb. 28.
Though most students were surprised when they first heard the news, the surprise soon faded as they thought about the pope’s age, some remembering TV appearances or their recent Rome semesters.
“I was surprised, but I understand that that’s what needed to be done since he was so old. I think everyone wasn’t expecting it to be the longest papacy considering his age,” said freshman Christina Deal, who found out this morning from her roommate Teresa Blackman.
“I was always struck by how worn he looked, so it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that he would resign,” said senior Danny Fitzpatrick, who received the news that morning while still in bed in a text from his roommate, senior Patrick Brehany.
“He looked like one of the most tired people I have ever seen,” said sophomore Claire Ballor, just returned from Rome.
“As members of the John Paul II generation, I guess we just expect him to be pope longer,” said senior Jessica Deal, who found out from Facebook and text messages.
Beyond the initial surprise, reactions varied, some sad, others admiring the pope’s humility, others thinking about what the resignation might mean.
“I think it’s sad he’s resigning,” Jessica Deal said. “Perhaps he could serve the Church better as a writer and theologian – that was his first love.”
“I felt really sad for some reason,” said sophomore Edgar Ramirez. “And I prayed silently to myself for a while – for the pope and for a holy successor.”
“I don’t think God calls people to do things beyond their strength. It seems like a good sign of the pope’s self-knowledge,” Fitzpatrick said.
Braniff Graduate Student Jake Schaner echoed Fitzpatrick’s thoughts.
“I see the pope’s decisions as a sign of his humility, both in accepting the pontificate in his late 70s … and in recognizing his own physical limitations now,” Schaner said.
“I thought it [the resignation] gave insight into the pope’s view of the world – that he thinks the world’s changing so fast that he can’t keep up, and that that change is accelerating,” said junior Lauren Baldau.
The resignation, though the first in nearly 600 years since Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, is not without precedent, according to Dr. Francis Swietek.
“I’m sure you’ll hear people talking about how this is precedent-shattering and all that,” said Swietek during the 8 a.m. Western Civilization class. “But you should know that it isn’t. If you look at it historically, it’s rare, but not exceptional.”
Across the Atlantic and closer to the time and place of the announcement, the spring Romers felt the news even more keenly than the Irving campus residents.
“Of course I was very shocked when I heard the news, because I had no idea what was happening, but I am praying that this is the right decision, and if the pope himself believes that it’s better for the Church, then I am in solidarity with the Church,” said sophomore Maria Giallombardo.
“It’s also really cool that we get to be here while this big, huge moment is happening,” Giallombardo said. “I’m just getting over the fact that he’s resigning, and it hasn’t happened in over 400 years, and I’m here for this momentous moment in church history.”
I’m sad to hear that he’s going, but I know it’s not that he’s not trusting in the grace of God to carry him through the papacy. I really think it’s that humility,” said sophomore Anthony Kersting. “You see that humility [in his recognition that] the Church needs solid leadership in this time of crisis; he recognizes with his deteriorating health that the Church is best served by someone else.”
“My initial reaction was: Wow, is that possible?” said sophomore Dominic Dougherty. “And then my reaction after reflection was: It’s not all that surprising, considering who Pope Benedict is and has been; it’s not something out of character for him because he’s always been the humble scholar who would prefer to study and write than be a public figure.”
Back in Irving, president Thomas Keefe sought to express the university’s gratitude to the pope.
“The University of Dallas is profoundly grateful for the courage and love Pope Benedict XVI has shown as leader of the Catholic Church,” Keefe said. “His actions define what it means to serve the Church. We stand in awe of this statement of self-sacrifice as we witness a courageous and historic move.”
Isabel Dubert contributed to the reporting of this article.