ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Father Tom Willis says he was “shocked” and surprised along with the rest of the world this morning when he learned that Pope Benedict plans to resign on February 28.
Willis – the Director of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine – says anybody who has watched Pope Benedict celebrate mass for the last several months have noticed that he’s declined physically.
“So that I think is very true,” Willis says.
Since Pope John Paul II became famous as a world traveler, Willis says the role of the Pope has changed.
“If that’s the expectation of what a Pope is to do, I can see where somebody now well up into his eighties is not gonna be able to keep that kind of a schedule,” he says.
“And when you do have to have all of these consulates that are going on at the church throughout the world at your heart and your mind, it does begin to where on you. So I can see where this became a possibility for him.”
Out of tradition, Willis says there’s a part of him that wanted Pope Benedict to keep going. But at the same time, Willis thinks everyone has learned that Pope Benedict is a man of great personal integrity and has a great love for the church.
“And so if he feels if he is unable to continue to govern and guide the church as he is supposed to in his role as supreme pontiff, then you have to accept the fact that he knows what is best not only for him, but more important, for the church,” Willis says.
“And I presume, with best of intentions, that he is looking at the big picture.”
Father Willis says a lot of people will have questions about what’s happening.
“I think most importantly is for everyone to recognize that while there is a Pope in charge of the church, he is the Vicar of Christ,” Willis says. “And the Christ is still, in many respects, running the church. The church isn’t going to change just because the Pope has announced that he’s going to resign. Things will go on day to day.”
Father Willis asks people to continue to pray, and to pray for Pope Benedict’s health.