Praise for pope 'dedicated to following Christ'


The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion said it was with a “heavy heart” that he had learned of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down as pontiff, adding that he fully sympathised with the decision.

“It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage,” Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby said in a statement yesterday.

The Most Rev Welby, who took over last week as leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, and whose father’s family were German Jewish immigrants who moved to England in the late 19th century to escape anti-Semitism, said he gave thanks to God for the pope’s life which, he said, was “utterly dedicated in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ”.

“We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart, and we entrust to the Holy Spirit those who have a responsibility to elect his successor,” he said in a statement.

The Catholic leader in England and Wales, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, who is Archbishop of Westminster, called on “people of faith” to pray for the 85-year-old pope, saying that his announcement had shown “great courage”.

“The holy father recognises the challenges facing the church and that strength of mind and body are necessary for his tasks of governing the church and proclaiming the gospel. I salute his courage and his decision.”

‘Surprise and then gratitude’

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who retired as archbishop of Westminster in 2009, said: “My reaction was one of surprise and then gratitude for his service and leadership of the church over the past seven years in troubled times.

“I saw him just a few months ago. There’s no doubt that age, and I suppose the struggle of coping with such an extraordinary, onerous task, was telling on him.”

Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, said he was “honoured to welcome the pope to Britain on behalf of non-Christian faiths in 2010”. He also spent time with him during a visit to the Vatican in 2011.

“I saw him to be a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm, a deeply thoughtful and compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and wisdom. I wish him good health, blessings and best wishes for the future.”

Israel’s chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, praised the pope’s interreligious outreach and said relations between Israel and the Vatican had never been better.

“I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing interreligious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” a spokesman quoted the rabbi as saying.

An influential Manchester-based Muslim organisation, the Ramadhan Foundation, expressed shock at the resignation and underscored the difficult relationship the retiring pontiff had with Islam.

“His papacy will be sadly remembered from the Muslim world [for] his distortion and attack on Islam as he came to the papacy. This sadly meant the hard work of his predecessor Pope John Paul II was tarnished and required extensive work to rebuild ties between Christianity and Islam,” the foundation’s chief executive, Mohammed Shafiq, said.

‘Despised and resented’

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said that under the pope the Vatican had become “despised and resented” throughout the world.

“He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church’s popularity and its authority,” said Mr Sanderson. – (Agencies/foreign desk)