As the Church of England continues to see a fall in congregation...
Search for new Pope underway
Benedict the 16th announced that he was retiring yesterday, surprising even his closest aides.
The successor to the Pope needs to build on the work Benedict XVI did in his attempts to bring peace to the Middle East and North Africa. That's the verdict of Church and Middle East and North Africa Commentator Dr Harry Hagopian.
The 85 year-old pontiff announced that he was retiring yesterday, saying his mind and body are now too old to carry out his full duties.
The Vatican says the Pope has had a pacemaker for years, but is not stepping down because of any specific illness.
He's the oldest Pope to travel outside Europe, including visits to Africa and the Middle East. In May 2009, he went on an eight-day visit to the Holy Land. On his final day in Jerusalem, he summed up his message, saying that the empty tomb "assures us that God can make all things new," that peace is really possible and that long-standing hostilities can be overcome.
Dr Hagopian told Premier's News Hour one of the Pope's key visits was to Lebanon.
Benedict XVI's shock announcement - the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years - surprised even his closest aides and only his brother Georg Ratzinger knew. Attention is now turning to who will succeed him. The Vatican says it expects the period between the Pope's resignation and the election of his successor to be as brief as possible, but there has been no confirmation on when cardinals will meet to choose a new pontiff.
Experts say Europeans are still among the favourites, but strong contenders could emerge from Africa and Latin America. Speaking to Premier's Inspirational Breakfast show is Edward Pentin - the Vatican correspondent for the Catholic Herald newspaper.
Dr Hagopian told Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour the Pope's resignation has led to questions as to what the future holds in the MENA region.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005, aged 78, after John Paul II's death. He took the helm as one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades - the scandal of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking. The leader of Catholics in England and Wales Archbishop Vincent Nichols has written to the Pope to thank him for his ministry and his visit to the UK in 2010.
The letter said:
"On behalf of the Catholics of England and Wales, and expressing sentiments shared by many others, I write to offer you, at this historic moment, our loving affection and prayers.
"We recognise the courage and integrity of your decision to step down from the See of St Peter. We assure you of our support, while very conscious of our profound sense of loss.
"We thank you, Holy Father, for all your years of service to the Church, and most of all for the seven years of your Apostolic Ministry as Supreme Pontiff.
"We have treasured your loving care as Pope and your wonderful teaching. Through your ministry many have grown in love of our faith and, most crucially, in their relationship with Our Lord.
"We remember with joy and exhilaration your Visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 when you thrilled us with your presence and spoke the message of the Gospel to the hearts of so many.
"We promise you our prayers for the years ahead. May God bless you with peace and the gift of consoling prayer.
"We know that you will continue, faithfully, your life-long vocation of love of God and His Church and of prayer for us all."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has confirmed the pope's last public appearance will be his final mass in Saint Peter's Square on February 27th. After that the Vatican has said he will retire to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo before moving into a renovated monastery for a period of prayer and reflection.
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