Although the news earlier today that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign this month took many religious leaders and local parishioners by surprise, many Catholics in Cranford support the pontiff's unprecedented decision, and believe he's doing the right thing.
On Monday morning, the Vatican announced that the 85-year-old pope will be resigning by the end of February because of his inability to fulfill the duties of his office. Pope Benedict said in a statement that his strength "has deteriorated" in the last few months, according to a CNN report.
This will be the first time in at least 600 years that a pope has resigned, rather than die, in office. It will also be the first time since the Middle Ages that there are two living popes within the Catholic Church. Typically, when a pope is selected, he serves in that role until death. Pope Benedict will vacate his post as head of the church on Feb. 28, at 8 p.m.
The news - which shocked many local churchgoers and religious officials - comes just weeks before Lent and Holy Week, the period of time leading up to Easter Sunday, which this year, falls on March 31.
Religious leaders in the community, including Monsignor Timothy Shugrue, pastor of St. Michael's Church on Alden Street in Cranford, believe that Pope Benedict thought carefully about his decision to resign. Msgr. Shugrue believes the pontiff's decision was a courageous one.
"I think Pope Benedict clearly is a very conscientious man," the pastor said. "His decision shows the Holy Father's regard for the position."
Msgr. Shugrue also said the decision to step down illustrates the fact that the soft-spoken German pope understands that his age and health issues could become a factor that might make it difficult for him to lead the Catholic Church.The pastor believes Pope Benedict's resignation and acknowledgement that his age may impact his position, is his way of fulfilling his responsibility as the head of the church.
"Pope Benedict may have realized that and realized the dangers of leaving the church in that position" Shugrue said.
The next step for the Vatican will involve the selection of a new pope by the College of Cardinals, who will meet in conclave to make their selection. Typically, a period of mourning following a pope's death precedes the conclave, but in this case, the cardinals can begin the process sooner, according to local religious leaders.
Many residents also support Pope Benedict's decision to step down and have commended him on his courage. Responding to a post on Cranford Patch's Facebook page seeking feedback regarding the pontiff's resignation, the majority of people believe the pope is doing what's best for the Catholic Church.
"I admire a man who realizes his health limitations, especially someone held in such high regard," resident Cindy Devlin said.
Lu Ann Mujica said that while she believes the pope has been a good leader, it may be "time for a change."
"I think it takes a wise man to know when he must step aside for someone stronger and healthier," Mujica said.
Others spoke of the Catholic Church in general, and the need for change within the 2,000-year-old religious institution.
"If the Catholic church wants to serve the modern public better by retiring things that are too old to be effective, I hope that this is just the beginning," resident Eric Rubinson said.
Tom Rice, another Patch reader, commended the Holy Father's "wisdom and humility" in making his decision.
"Good for him to have the wisdom and humility to let a new leader emerge for the sake of the whole Catholic Church rather than possibly letting his personal health get in the way," Rice said. "God bless him."