When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on the morning of Feb. 11, members of the Catholic Church throughout the world experienced a wave of fear, shock, concern, and sadness.
Turlock native and CSU Stanislaus student Maggie Ruiz was bordering the line between dreams and reality when she first heard the news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. She was soundly sleeping in her bed before her brother woke her to tell her the news.
“I was still half asleep, not very conscious, but all I said was, ‘why?’” Ruiz said. “My brother mentioned his health and his age. I dozed off and I thought about that in my sleep. I was bummed out, and I was sad because I love this man.”
Ruiz is no ordinary 20-year-old Roman Catholic. Her efforts to be near the Pope have led her to journey across the world, most notably to Spain and Italy, where the Pope had celebrated his homilies, teachings, and messages with the world. In 2011, Ruiz went to his summer residence in Rome where she attended a group pre-pilgrimage with 5,000 people before making her way to Madrid, Spain with other members of the church.
The event, known as World Youth Day, is a large gathering for young Catholics that happens every two to three years at different international locations, promoting spiritual and global encounters. In Spain, Ruiz and 2 million attendants braved the early heat wave, creepy critters, and a hurricane to join the Pope in an all-night vigil.
Ruiz’s compassion for the Pope is so strong, that she considers him a family member, and granted him a special nickname: Papa Benny.
“It’s a term that makes me feel closer to him. He is like a grandfather to me. Everyone thinks he is so boring and old and that he can’t relate to us, but he is a very intelligent man. He is very elderly, and I’m sad about his resignation, but I am also very proud of him because he knows his humanly limits,” said Ruiz.
“Papa Benny is someone really special and important in my life. We are excited to be with the new Pope, but I will miss Papa Benny.”
Other members of the Catholic Church didn’t take the news of the Pope’s resignation seriously at first, believing it to be nothing more than a joke.
“When I heard in the morning that he announced that he was resigning, I was more surprised at that then if I had heard that he had died,” said Father Manuel Souza of Our Lady of Assumption. “When someone told me, I laughed and thought they were kidding. If they said the Pope died, I would easily believe that.”
Father Souza's initial disbelief is understandable. Pope Benedict XVI is the first in his office to resign on his own initiative since Pope Celestine V in 1294. Popes, as of now, are known to hold their position until death.
But Father Souza recently acknowledged that the Pope had been dropping hints for the last couple years about his intended departure. Whether he intended to depart from his position or this world was up to Father Souza’s interpretation.
“Pope Benedict has been preparing the College of Cardinals with new talent. In an interview in 2010, he talked with Peter Seawall about how the law allowed the resignation of the pope,” said Father Souza. “And he was giving different hints that this was possible. It was his way of preparing. In 2011, he also chose two new cardinals twice in one year, which is not very common.”
Despite the fact that Father Souza was shocked by the resignation, he grieved at the thought of losing another member of the church to something as mundane as age. Instead, Father Souza recounted the Pope’s past with a bright commemoration.
“Benedict had this way of saying so much in so few words. Every little homily he announced, it was just packed with thoughtfulness and clarity, order and depth,” said Father Souza. “Once the Father, always the Father.”
Even though Father Souza is saddened by the Pope’s decision, he believed something would manifest in that choice.
“The Pope saw that he was frail and decided to give that office up for the good of the church. He is at peace with his decision, and we will have a great new pope soon,” said Souza. “We are asking families to pray for the next Pope. But, we have some American cardinals that would make great popes in my view. Who am I to say? God knows who he wants.”