Bay Area Reaction to Pope's Stepping Down

Bay Area Catholics on Monday reacted to the surprise announcement by the Vatican that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down at the end of the month - the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages.

"When we saw him in October in Rome, we realized how frail he was becoming,"  Monsignor Francis Cilia , Vicar General of the Diocese of San Jose told NBC Bay Area on Monday. "I think it’s a courageous act on his part."

The 85-year-old pope announced the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators, even though Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.

Even if some feel the decision is courageous, many South Bay Catholics interviewed outside St. Christopher's Church in San Jose said they were sad.

"I’m very disappointed because in my lifetime, every has followed the natural path of dying and electing a new Pope," said Lydia Vitanza.

 Mario Domino added: "I like him very much. I kind of sympathize with him. I'm sad he has to go, but I guess he realizes that he can't continue."

Domino has been reading the pope's writings, and thinks that the pontiff's legacy will be the concept of faith. "The world is going to hell and a handbasket, literally," Domino said. "And he wanted us to know that God is with you."

Steve Shelly said he will remember the pope and his work fondly: "Most of the news people were saying he’s a Rottweiler pope. No he wasn’t.  He was  a Pope who spoke on love.  And he has a strong legacy of love and being faithful to the Catholic church. "

Others, such as Richard Cloughesy, had a more even-keeled approach to the pope stepping down.

"He's very conservative...too much for some people and fine for others," Cloughesy said. "I really have no reaction."

There is bound to be reaction as to who succeeds Benedict.

There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, but in recent years, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. He now goes to and from the altar in St. Peter's Basilica on a moving platform, to spare him the long walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane.

His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, said doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.

"His age is weighing on him," Ratzinger told the dpa news agency. "At this age my brother wants more rest."

San Francisco's Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement that he wishes the pope well in his new chapter.

"Those of us who know him and who have watched his whole life unfold in service to God, can see that that this decision to step down was motivated by his own discernment of what best serves the good of the Church," Cordileone said. " I will pray for him with great filial affection, and ask that we all hold him in prayer at this time. May God bless him and may God guide the College of Cardinals as they choose his successor.”

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NBC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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