During the consistory on 11 February, in an unexpected move, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he is to resign. In his statement, Pope Benedict – who turns 86 in April – said he had “come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”… “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, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
In Africa the Pope’s resignation has been received with shock, astonishment and surprise but also with great respect and love. “It was a shock, no one was expecting it.”, said Monsignor Matthew Manoso Ndagoso, bishop of the Nigerian diocese of Kaduna. “The decision of Pope Benedict XVI is an act of profound love for the church. He did not want the church to be led by a person without the necessary strength, for health reasons”, added bishop Ndagoso. The bishop also expressed the hope that the next Pope will continue the work undertaken by Benedict XVI, particularly with respect to Africa. “The Pope’s focus on Africa is testified by the convocation of the 2009 Synod and the post-Synod Africae Munus exhortation on the need for commitment toward reconciliation, justice and peace”, stressed Bishop Ndagoso.
“The higher you are the more humble you must be”, said Monsignor Joseph Befe Ateba, bishop of the southern diocese of Kribi, in Cameroon. He remembers, as if it were only yesterday, the meeting with the Pope in Yaoundé on March 17, 2009, when the Pope gave the church in Africa the final document of the Synod. “The central message was the importance of commitment to reconciliation, justice and peace for the growth of the continent”, explained Bishop Ateba.
“We will miss him”, confirmed Monsignor Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos, in Nigeria. “The Pope’s resignation was a shock. In modern history this had never occurred before. I continue receiving phone calls from people, Catholics, but also of other Christian confessions and Muslims. They want to know what is happening in the Church and if there are problems. I believe that the decision of Benedict XVI is tied to his age and health”.
“Pope Benedict XVI – continued the bishop – has helped our nation very much. If we think about the terrorism of the Boko Haram, the Pope has never remained silent in that regard. He always firmly and courageously condemned all forms of violence, remaining firmly alongside the Christians who are a minority in northern Nigeria. We will miss him very much, also because he inspired and led us in seeking dialogue with Muslims. He was committed entirely and coherently to inter-faith dialogue and, therefore, to the harmony of our nation”. Referring to the possibility of the new Pope being from Africa, Monsignor Kaigama said: “We all hope that the new Pope will be a spiritual leader able to govern a structure of reference for over a billion faithful; a Pope able to interpret global events and trends, committed to harmony, peace and unity between the World’s North and South, between Christians and Muslims. It does not matter where this Pope comes from. We have the duty of obedience and will welcome any decision taken by the Cardinals. Undoubtedly, if the Pope should be Nigerian, Ghanaian or from any other African country, we will be happy”.
Archbishop Stephen Breslin of Cape Town, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, said: “Pope Benedict’s decision to resign is a humble act based on his recognition of his failing physical help and the need for the Church to have a Pope who has strength both in body and mind. It is quite clear that this difficult and agonizing decision has been made for the good and the love of the Church. We respect and acknowledge his humility and his willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good of the People of God. While we may be saddened by his resignation we do recognize that the Pope, after frequent examination of conscience, believes that this is the right course of action at this time in the life of the Church. We respect that and we, as Catholics, must continue to pray for Pope Benedict that he will continue to serve Christ and his Church in a new way”.
In Zimbabwe, Father Oscar Wermter, editor of the Catholic magazine “In Touch” said: “Benedict XVI is a man who is not dazzled by the splendour of his exalted office, but accepts the human reality of old age, his frailty and the objective requirements of his office. It is not personal vanity that guides him, but the needs of the Church. Accepting reality – that is what humility is all about. Here is a very realistic man without illusions, without self-deception. He sees the objective reality of his old age, on the one hand, and what the Church needs, on the other. Somehow the two do not tally, and he recognizes what needs to be done: make room for a new Pope, for the sake of the Church. We salute a brave and a humble servant of God. Pope Benedict XVI is not a political Pope as perhaps his predecessor was. He is a scholar, a theologian, and a teacher of the faith. He is humble enough to recognize that he can no longer serve the People of God as he ought to. If only certain leaders in Africa, old and frail, showed similar humility and concern for the welfare for their people”.
According to Sebat Ayelé, an Eritrean missionary and editor of the Comboni Leadership magazine in Kampala, the church of Uganda is “in shock”. A sentiment shared from north to south and east to west of the continent, accentuated by the difficulties of the world today and confirmed by Father Leonard Chiti, director in Zambia of the Jesuit Centre for theological reflection. “Pope Benedict XVI feels the need for the church to be headed by a person full of energy, because he is deeply aware of the difficulties of the challenges that lie ahead: from sexual abuse accusations to the drive toward secularization of society in the western world, from globalization to incognitos on climate change”, explained Fr. Chiti. “I hope that a member of the Church of Africa, Latin America or Asia is chosen as successor of St. Peter. These are developing continents with vibrant and strong ecclesiastic bodies”, concluded Fr. Leonard.
The memory of Pope Benedict XVI is still vivid in Saint Anthony’s and the cross marking his visit to this suburb of Luanda, in Angola, is inscribed with the date of March 22, 2009. The Pontiff was in Africa on a visit to Cameroon and Angola to consign the document of the Synod, but he went to St. Anthony’s to meet with the women and representatives of the Movements for the promotion of women, who contributed to keeping the nation on its feet during the civil war. “That today Angola is a nation at peace and of growth is mainly thanks to the women”, said Father Peter, Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s. He still remembers that day: “It was a touching moment for many of us, even for those who just caught a glimpse of him for a moment, and for all 300,000 inhabitants, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, of this area. The Pope’s words were heartfelt and still live in the memory of all Angolans”. Women in Angola today, due in fact to the civil war and its many victims, are the fulcrum of society, custodians of the families and often the breadwinners. “The Pope knew this, and for this reason he came here. He remains impressed in the hearts and minds of the people”.