ATLANTA—Catholics from throughout the metro area filled the downtown Atlanta Cathedral of Christ the King for a mass of thanksgiving honoring Pope Benedict XVI, who officially stepped down as Pope on Feb. 28.
“This is the first time in 600 years that a pope has resigned in the church’s 2,000-year history. Popes serve until they die and then we have a funeral,” said Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “We knew his health was declining. When he announced he was retiring, many people went through a period of sadness because they loved him and they look to him for leadership.”
Archbishop William Gregory
The bells tolled in St. Petersburg, Rome as the frail, 85-year-old Pope said his final farewell as Pope, several international news sources reported.
“I will no longer be pope but a simple pilgrim who is starting out on the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth,” the Pope told a throng of cheering
Catholics gathered outside the Castel Gandolfo palace.
In Atlanta, parishioners held an hour-long evening mass on the Pope’s final day in service, one of many held around the globe for the leader of over 1 billion Catholics worldwide, 1 million of them in the Atlanta area. Archbishop William Gregory led the service. People of all races and all walks of life filled the 500-seat Cathedral, kneeling at their pews.
Gregory said the Pope’s resignation was personal to him.
“It was a resignation of someone I knew, loved and respected,” said Gregory.
The service, Chivers said, was a way to unite Catholics and say goodbye.
“This was an opportunity for Catholics around the world to unify in prayer for the wellbeing of Pope Benedict XVI and in thanksgiving for the years he has served,” said Chivers.
As parishioners prayed around the world, the Pope prayed for the election of the church’s new leader while voting takes place.
Chivers said the climate among Catholics is positive.
“We knew his health was declining. Many people went through a period of sadness because they loved him and they look to him for leadership,” Chivers said. “At this point, people are accepting his decision and are recognizing the resignation as very humble gesture. Now, people are moving to excitement to see who will be the new pope.”