‘I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter.’ (Pope Benedict XVI)
THAT the Supreme Pontiff and Head of the Roman Catholic Church, worldwide, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI would resign from his esteemed office on February 28, 2013, is no longer news. In fact, the past week has seen the media, local and international, inundated with news, reports and analysis on the resignation and what it holds for Catholics and Christians.
Understandably, the Pope’s action has elicited so much interest because of the strategic nature of his office, Apart from being the head of over 1 billion Catholic faithful, the Pope, believed by Catholics to be the successor of the first Pope, St. Peter, is also Head of State of the Vatican City (the smallest sovereign nation on earth). This makes him a world leader in the secular sense.
In the days and weeks to come, all eyes would be on the Vatican City. There, at the Sistine Chapel, over 100 Cardinals, all under the age of 80, would gather to elect a new Pope.
Can a Pope resign? The previous Pope, Blessed John Paul II, died in active service. He was known to be sick for many years, and despite his ill health, he still managed to carry out his duties to the end. Pope Benedict XVI took over in 2005 at the advanced age of 78. By the time he made public his intention to resign, he was 86. At that point, and considering his very rigorous schedule, which includes meetings, travelling, personal audiences and unending protocols, which leaves little or no room for quiet time, it is understandable that the German-born scholar chose this period to dedicate the remainder of his life to prayer and quiet contemplation. He has done his best.
I believe strongly that the Pope acted in humility and love for the Church. His decision to ‘renounce’ his esteemed position, on realising his declining physical ability, is in conformity with Canon Law, and in obedience to the dictates of his conscience.
Throwing more light on basis for the Pope’s resignation, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lagos, Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins, explained: “We do not have this sort of event happening everyday. But at the same time, we know that the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, makes provision for the resignation of the Pope, if he becomes incapacitated or, as with Benedict XVI, if he believes he is no longer able to effectively carry out his official functions as head of the Roman Catholic Church due to a decline in his physical ability.
“This is not the first time that a Pope would resign. In fact, we have had not less than three who resigned, including Pope Celestine V in 1294 and Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict XVI was not forced into taking that decision. Like he said in his own words, he acted with ‘full freedom,’ being conscious of the deep spiritual implication of his action... By his decision, the Holy Father has acted gallantly and as such we must commend and respect his decision.”
From the above, and considering that we are a people bedevilled by a strong culture of sit-tight leadership, there is so much to learn from the Pope’s resignation. Here is a man who is not obsessed with worldly power and pomp, like so many of us are. We see in him a man who is humble enough to admit that he is no longer physically able to meet up with the daily rigour his office requires.
In him, we learn what it means to be selfless, to look beyond one’s personal gains, and focus more on the bigger picture for the overall benefit of all. It shows us, once again, that no one is indispensable. I wish that sit-tight leaders in Africa and other parts of the world would borrow a leaf from this exemplary action.
Also, the orderly manner that the Church has so far conducted itself since February 12, and the organised way it is going about electing a new Pope, shows the high level of discipline associated with her. There is nothing like power tussle or litigation. There is an institutionalised chain of command. At the end of it all, whoever emerges Pope, through the aid of the Holy Spirit, would unanimously be accepted by all and sundry.
We should not be saddened by the Pope’s resignation. Rather, we should see it as an act of God, as a sign of the divine presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. He sees beyond the obvious and plans ahead of the future for the good of His people.
Though the Church may be passing through trying times, especially in Europe, the Bible has told us that the gate of hell would never prevail against her.
Our prayer should be that God in His infinite wisdom would select for us a good and worthy successor, who would move the Church to greater heights, to the glory of His name. Amen.
Very Rev. Msgr. Gabriel Osu is the Director, Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos
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