Catholics Who Saw Pope In 2008 Absorb His Decision To Resign
Published: February 28, 2013
ATLANTA—More than 50,000 people in 2008 crowded Yankee Stadium in New York to pray with Pope Benedict XVI at an outdoor Mass, among them people from the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
As the pope prepares for his life after his years as the head of the church, a few of those Atlanta Catholics were asked for their views about this historic moment. What did the news of his resignation mean to them? What memories of the afternoon spent at the stadium do they treasure? What are priorities they would like the next pope to take up?
From the time a news alert popped up on his iPad that Pope Benedict XVI would resign, tears flowed for Anthony Le.
“He must be very courageous, humble and holy to accept his human weakness and to trust in God for his continued protection and shepherd his church on earth,” said Le, a member of Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta.
It took him an hour to get over the sadness, including reading the news on the Vatican website again and again. He came to see how the pope made the decision “for the sake of the church.”
For the next pope, Le, said he should be “intellectual, holy and devoted to Our Blessed Mother” and his priorities should include traditional marriage and respect life issues.
His wife, Sylvia Le, said she hopes the next pope will have the character of Blessed John Paul II and the intellectual mind of Pope Benedict, along with “love for Mary, the poor, the sick, the homeless, and especially advocate (for) and protect those who do not have a voice.”
Other area Catholics who were in the crowd that day in the Bronx are also reflecting on that time and how they understand this historic moment through the eyes of faith.
Deacon Bill Garrett had traveled to New York City. It was the first time he had seen a pope in person. So the news on Monday, Feb. 11, threw him off his exercise routine at the YMCA near his home. When the news appeared on TV, he had to stop to make sure he understood the news.
“There were quite a few people gathered around. It was like, holy mackerel,” he said.
“If anything, it strengthened my faith. It’s a reflection that the Holy Spirit is alive and invigorating the church,” said Deacon Garrett, who serves at All Saints Church, Dunwoody.
The decision by the pope can now be a precedent for future church leaders, he said. It is appropriate as people live longer that church leaders are able to retire before serious illness impedes them, he said.
“I think that’s a good position to take. You shouldn’t have to be six feet under to abdicate responsibility,” he said. “It took courage and faith for the pope to do the right thing,” he said.
In Deacon Garrett’s opinion, the next pope should “address issues of the people in the pews and the people no longer in the pews.” Also, Deacon Garrett said he’d encourage him to look at the role of women in the church, to ensure they are treated equitably and fairly.
For Todd Crandall, the image he holds of his trip to New York is watching the pope enter the stadium “that caused an eruption of cheers to rival anything I have ever heard. It was an overwhelming experience.”
The resignation news was shocking, he said, but he has come to see it as a “selfless act.”
“As always, Pope Benedict put the church and his flock first,” said the 43-year-old who worships at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
Like others, Crandall said his faith has been bolstered by the pope’s decision as he awaits the election of his successor.
Mark Moeller said he has “gratitude for a man who would act with such humility by following the direction of the Holy Spirit.”
A member of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, Moeller said the 2008 trip to New York with his wife, Patsy, showed him “the vastness and complexity of the community of believers” in the church.
“To experience the link to Jesus, through Peter and the succession of popes, helps make my Catholic faith real and tangible, as it has for others throughout the ages,” he said.
“Once again, we, the faithful, get to witness the power of the Holy Spirit at work. I believe that not only does the Holy Spirit direct the election of the pope, but also his actions on behalf of the church,” said Moeller, 51.
A hope he holds for the next pope is for him to have “the courage to lead the church as guided by the Holy Spirit, even when it is unpopular.” And for him, priorities of the pope should be highlighting the role of the family, from protecting the sanctity of life to addressing the declining birth rates and the sacrament of marriage.