By Kim Walter
Along with Pope Benedict's resignation Monday morning came feelings of shock and surprise, and the reaction was no different in the Shenandoah Valley.
Christendom College in Front Royal has had a relationship with Benedict, even prior to his election as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005, according to a release sent out by the school on Monday.
In 2002, the then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger served as the chairman of the school's 25th Anniversary Honorary Dinner Committee. Additionally, President Timothy O'Donnell has had a number of opportunities to meet with Benedict and serve on several committees with him.
O'Donnell didn't question Benedict's reasoning for stepping down from the position: "...both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
O'Donnell said Monday that Benedict's decision had to be one that was reached after a long, prayerful amount of time, "and he has been a great leader."
"He knows the the burdens of the office better than any one else," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell admitted that he was shocked upon hearing the news, as a resignation of this caliber is "without precedent in modern history." He also said that the pope's physical health must really be suffering, because mentally, "[the pope] seemed to sharp."
Following the announcement, some criticism surfaced since Benedict's predecessor John Paul refrained from stepping down even when severely ill. To the opposition, O'Donnell said people may forget that John Paul was elected at the age of 58, while Benedict filled the position in his late 70s.
Benedict, now 85, will leave the office on Feb. 28.
According to the Associated Press, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington said the next pope will need "a certain level of energy" to travel around the world and be physically present to tend to the faithful.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl said at a news conference Monday that he was shocked by Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign, but that it was a sign of the "pope's humility and love for the church that he concluded he was no longer able to perform his duties."
Father Stanley Krempa of Sacred Heart in Winchester, said he, too, was surprised when he left morning mass to hear that Benedict was resigning.
"I thought someone had misunderstood, so I checked the TV and sure enough, there it was," he said Monday. "He was a very good pope, but what else can you do when your health starts to deteriorate?"
Krempa agreed that it was a judgment only Benedict could make, like retirement. He mentioned Pope John Paul II in supporting Benedict's decision.
"His judgement was to stay and carry his cross in public," Krempa said. "Pope Benedict is showing his fidelity to the church in a different way. There are many issues that he's faced over the years ... it must be hard to be in charge of an organization that's on every continent."
O'Donnell said he thinks the process to get someone to fill the high-ranking position -- the conclave -- will move swiftly. Obviously, there is a process in place, and as Krempa put it, "It's not as though there will be chaos."
Both leaders applauded the efforts of Benedict during his time as the vicar of Christ. At Christendom, students offered prayers and faculty members recapped major things Benedict had done since stepping into office.
"Students were definitely surprised, but also supportive," O'Donnell said. "Christ is the ultimate leader ... he will take care of everything."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org