“I was just floored,” said Fitzpatrick, who attends daily Mass at St. Dominic’s Chapel in the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, located off Cobb Parkway in Smyrna.
Fitzpatrick expressed admiration for Pope Benedict.
“He’s El Papa. He has been very paternal. He has held to the traditions that I hold,” she said.
After learning the reason for Pope Benedict’s retirement, Fitzpatrick said she understood why Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign his position.
“After my initial, ‘Oh my heavens,’ you have to understand also he is frail, and he had the strength to be able to say, ‘I can’t keep doing this any longer,’ and let someone younger and vibrant continue,” she said. “There’s sadness but the continuity of the church continues, and I think that’s what is a good feeling.”
Fitzpatrick attended the Mass delivered by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who said Monday was the 21st World Day of the Sick, a day started by Pope John Paul II.
“Of course today Catholics throughout the world have been shocked and certainly just brought to a stunning awareness by the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI intends to resign the papacy,” Gregory said. “And the reason he gives is that he’s growing old, frail, so as we pray for the sick, especially any of our own sick neighbors and relatives and friends, we also pray for the Holy Father that in these moments before his resignation takes place we support him with our affection and our prayers and ask the Lord to be merciful and to strengthen him so that his great contribution to the life of the church will continue, and that he will know peace and the comfort and the affection of the people of God.”
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, a member of the Catholic Church of St. Ann in east Cobb, said she learned about the announcement while at the Board of Commissioners’ morning meeting.
“I was surprised in a way, but I know in the past he’s had some health issues, and I think that was the reason they gave for his resignation,” Birrell said. “I think he’s been doing a great job and been a great pope. Hate to see him go, but I understand, and I’m sure he knows what’s best for him.”
Birrell described herself as a “very traditional Catholic.”
“If you want to say ‘old school,’ ‘traditional,’ whatever, ‘conservative,’ so I like the qualities he possesses,” Birrell said. “I’d like to see those same qualities continue in the next pope.”
Following the Monday Mass, Archbishop Gregory gave a press conference, where he said he learned of the resignation Monday morning just like everyone else.
“While I was as surprised as everyone to receive the news, I was not surprised that his love for the church and his own awareness of his age and loss of physical stamina led him to make this decision for the good of the church that he loves with all this heart,” Gregory said.
Gregory said the last time he saw the pope was in May.
“Certainly in May he was a little more — how can I say? — he showed his age and having been with him on many occasions over the past 20 years, I remember him as a very engaging and energetic individual eager to enter into dialogue and to make himself available. In May he was noticeably tired,” Gregory said.
The qualities Gregory wants to see in the next pope are wisdom, pastoral experience, intellectual prowess, administrative capacity and someone who can respond to the needs of the world as they are today.
“So I’m not so concerned about ethnicity, I’m not so concerned about an ideological position,” Gregory said. “Holiness, wisdom, pastoral insight, availability, that’s what I would hope for.”
Americans tends to think in terms of personalities, as someone being too liberal or too conservative, Gregory said.
“I think when the College of Cardinals gets together they have to say, ‘what does this office need,’ and that’s a little different than the way we usually go about our political enterprise,” he said.
Gregory summed up Benedict’s legacy, saying his intellectual prowess will be a primary mark of his papacy.
“He was and still is a theologian, a man of letters and theological acumen and the ability to think in clear theological terms,” Gregory said.
The contrast between Pope John Paul, elected at age 58, and Benedict, elected at age 78, is a big one, Gregory said.
“So you had that contrast. How does one begin a papacy at 58 and how does one begin a papacy at 78? Not exactly the same way, and obviously today with the announced resignation he will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to tender his resignation.”