It was a surprising announcement indeed that Pope Benedict made this week. Of course, a Pope has the authority to say he will no longer be the Pope. But this will certainly be a new experience for the Church in our day.
Having worked in the Vatican, it also raises some interesting protocol questions in my mind. What will he be called once he is no longer Pope; what ecclesiastical attire will he wear; and what will the protocol be when he is present in a room, especially along with the new Pope? I suspect, though, that he is going to remain pretty secluded.
These, of course, are interesting tidbits. But going to the more substantive matters, the Pope's decision, made with complete freedom, is certainly an expression of love for the Church. He wants the flock to have a shepherd who is able to meet the demands of the times. He makes the distinction in his announcement between the demands of the office itself and its demands in our current society. The challenges of our day, when not only the faith but basic human realities like life, marriage, and death are under such severe attack, and when communications and opinion-shaping are instantaneous, make the task of leading the world's Catholics more challenging than ever.
Pope Benedict has served the Church well; he will continue to serve the Church with his witness of a life of prayer. My own interaction with him has been in the arena of the defense of human life from abortion. Not only has he continued to articulate the Church's pro-life teachings, but has taken important initiatives to implement them.
How very encouraged we all were, a couple of years ago, when he began the Advent season with a special prayer service dedicated to the unborn, and urged bishops around the world to do the same. And in his planning of this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict put on the calendar of official events the day in honor of the Gospel of Life, to be observed in Rome on June 16. I suspect that this will be the start of an annual "Day of Human Life" to be observed in the Church.
This year's message for the World Day of Peace, moreover, stressed the fact that there can be no peace if we allow abortion to continue. And in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI pointed out how the fight for the right to life is integral to the Church's commitment to social justice, and cannot be subtracted from it.
This and much more give us reason to thank Pope Benedict, and you can send him a special word of thanks and promise of prayers at our website, PriestsForLife.org. Moreover, you will find there a prayer asking for wisdom for the Cardinals who will elect the new Pope.
Let's pray it every day, and be prepared to welcome the new Vicar of Christ on earth!
Prayer for the Election of a New Pope
Lord Jesus Christ,
You are the Good Shepherd,
And you never leave your flock untended.
You gave your life that we may live,
And you appoint shepherds after your own heart
To lead your people by word and example
To likewise give themselves away in love.
We thank you for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI,
And for his service to the Church and the world.
We ask that you now give him a fruitful period
Of rest and prayer, of gratitude and praise.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, with the Father,
To send the Holy Spirit on the Church once again.
In particular, guide the Cardinals who will shortly exercise
The obligation and privilege of electing a new Pope.
Guide their deliberations and decisions
With divine wisdom and insight.
Even now, Lord Jesus, give to the new Pope,
Whom you have already chosen,
An abundance of holiness and strength,
To carry out the mission you have entrusted to him.
May your Word reign supreme in his life,
And may his every word and action point the Church to You,
The supreme and eternal Shepherd,
And the only mediator between God and humanity,
For you live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
Press Release: Fr. Pavone: Pope's Action an "Expression of Love"
Full text of Pope Benedict's Statement
Send Pope Benedict Your Thanks and Pray for the Election of His Successor!