Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb 11, citing deteriorating health. CNS photoPope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb 11, citing deteriorating health. CNS photoSome express sadness and admiration, others hope for change

Church leaders in Asia have expressed sadness, shock and admiration in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he would step down as pontiff – the first to do so since Pope Gregory XII stepped down in 1415.

In a statement to the CatholicNews, Archbishop Nicholas Chia said, “We have grown to love and admire him, and so are marked today with sadness at his impending departure from his role as Supreme Pontiff.

“With admiration we acknowledge the courageous witness of life and marvellous clarity of thought that have marked his many dedicated years of service”.

Vicar General Msgr Eugene Vaz told CatholicNews that when he first heard the news about the pope’s resignation on Feb 11, he found it “stunning”. However, as he listened to more reports and read the pope’s statement on his deteriorating health, Msgr Vaz found himself saying, “This man is awesome, humble, in love with the Church.”

“He’s doing it for the good of the Church ... openly saying, ‘I’m not fit,’” said Msgr Vaz. “It’s something amazing in this age, and I hope that the process to get his successor will not take too long.”

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who many have speculated could be the next pope since he became cardinal last year, said, “We felt like children clinging to a father who bids them farewell. But sadness gives way to admiration for the Holy Father’s humility, honesty, courage and sincerity.”

In a statement posted on the website of the Philippine bishops’ conference, the 55-year-old cardinal, who is Archbishop of Manila, noted that the pope’s “paramount desire is to promote the greater good of the Church”.

For many Asian Catholics, the media-savvy Cardinal Tagle embodies the hopes for a younger, more modern and, most importantly, non-European pontiff who reflects the changing demographics of the Church.

“I hope that in coming days, the next pope will give more attention to the fast-growing Church in Asia and Africa. If possible, I wish the new pope will come from Asia or Africa,” said Mr Muliawan Margadana, chairman of the Indonesian Catholic Graduates and Intellectuals Association.

Other Church leaders expressed hope the next pope would work towards greater dialogue.

“The new pope should be open to dialogue with the bishops of the world, forge good relationships with them, empower the local as well as the Universal Church pastorally,” said Holy Cross Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said Pope Benedict was an ally of the Church in Pakistan, where its minority status often puts it at odds with the predominantly Muslim population.

“He was supportive of our stance regarding the blasphemy law and other issues related to the minority Christian community,” he said.

Two Indian cardinals, who will join the consistory to elect the next pope, praised Pope Benedict for his contributions to the Indian Church.

“Without him, the Church would not have received recognition so easily,” said Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Church. He was installed as cardinal in November.

Cardinal George Alencherry, installed in October, said, “The Holy Father may have been weak because of poor health in past months, but he had clarity of vision and communication.”

While acknowledging hopes for the next pontiff to come from outside Europe, Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, admitted this was unlikely.

“It is very hard to guess who Benedict’s successor will be, but I think he will come from Europe or South America,” he said.

For some, the resignation presents the Church with an opportunity for change,

Fr Bartholomew Choi Jai-in, a retired priest from South Korea’s Suwon diocese, suggested that the Church suffered from having an elderly pope. “We need a young pope who will lead the Church dynamically,” he said.

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, echoed these sentiments. “The modern Church needs someone younger, someone who is physically fit,” he said.

Bishop Joseph Gan Junquiu of Guangzhou, who is recognised by both the Chinese government and the Vatican, said the pope has made a substantial impact on the embattled Church in China.

While relations between Beijing and Rome had not normalised as many had hoped, the pope nonetheless provided essential guidance with a pastoral letter to China in 2007 that “could lay the foundation for this normalisation in the future”, Bishop Gan said. UCANEWS.COM, ASIANEWS

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