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Catholics surprised at pope's decision to retire

Monday - 2/11/2013, 7:20pm  ET

People pray during a Mass at Westminster Cathedral, in London, which is the Mother Church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for the world's 1 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Shock, sadness and declarations of faith met Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he would retire Feb. 28. It also sparked reflection about what kind of pontiff should replace him. Here's a look at reaction from around the world:

UNITED STATES

At St. Andrew by the Bay in Annapolis, Maryland, the Rev. Jeffrey Dauses, said that as the world has changed, so have the demands on the papacy.

"It's not the world of the Middle Ages. It's not the world even of in the earlier part of this century when the pope pretty much stayed in Rome, did everything from Rome," Dauses said. "Nowadays with travel, with the expectations of an incredibly high profile, public life, he's not a young man. I mean, he's at an age where in our culture he would be taking it easy and resting, and we're expecting him to keep this grueling schedule as pope, and he simply had the ability to say, 'I can't do that.'"

In New Orleans, parishioner Alden Hagardorn said Benedict's decision to step down in the in the face of declining health was "a very bold and brave decision."

"It's something he didn't have to do," said Hagardorn, one of a group of Catholics who have tried to stop closure of churches amid the city's diminished population and financial losses following Hurricane Katrina.

HONDURAS:

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said he received the news of the pope's resignation "with great regret and much surprise."

"This is something completely new for the Catholic Church, though it was discussed during the illness of Pope John Paul II," the cardinal said. "I didn't know Pope Benedict XVI would make this decision, but the last time I talked to him he seemed physically tired. So I understand that the Holy Father has made this decision coherently and because he can't continue."

NORWAY:

Andreas Dingstad, a spokesman for the Catholic diocese in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, said it may be time for a "youngish" pope, possibly from the developing world.

"The church is growing most in the south. So I think lots of people will be ready for a pope from Africa, Asia or South America. But who knows, it's the early days still," Dingstad said.

SPAIN:

Spain's bishops are "affected and (feel) like orphans because of this decision that fills us with sorrow, because his rich teaching and his close paternity made us feel safe and enlightened," said Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

PERU:

The president of Peru's Roman Catholic bishops, Msgr. Salvador Pineiro, said Benedict's successor "has to be a pope with much physical strength." He noted that believers had become accustomed to the energy of his successor John Paul II, who traveled widely.

"It would make me very happy if the new pope were a Latin American," he added in a telephone interview from the country's Huamanga-Ayacucho region. "Although in Africa, they will ask that he be an African, and those in Rome will ask for a Roman."

NIGERIA

The African nation with biggest Christian population, Nigeria, has some 20 million practicing Catholics. In Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, trader Chukwuma Awaegwu put his feelings simply Monday: "If I had my way an African should be the next pope, or someone from Nigeria."

"It's true they brought the religion to us, but we have come of age," he said. "In America, now we have a black president. So let's just feel the impact of a black pope."

ISRAEL:

Following the surprise resignation, Israeli leaders lauded Pope Benedict XVI as a friend.

One of Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger, said relations between the rabbinate and the Catholic Church "were the best ever" under Benedict. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, said the pope was a "clear voice against racism and anti-Semitism."

IRAQ:

Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said the pope, in resigning, "is an example, when we cannot serve, to let another one do better." Sako met with the pope last week and said he noticed then how tired the pontiff seemed.

PORTUGAL

Antonio Marto, the bishop of Fatima in central Portugal, said Benedict resignation presents an opportunity to pick a church leader from a country outside Europe.

"Europe today is going through a period of cultural tiredness, exhaustion, which is reflected in the way Christianity is lived," Marto told reporters. "You don't see that in Africa or Latin America where there is a freshness, an enthusiasm about living the faith.

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