By The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi leaders of the Catholic Church responded to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI with praise and prayers for the pontiff who has guided the church for eight years.
On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign Feb. 28 — becoming the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. His decision sets the stage for a mid-March conclave to elect a new leader for a Roman Catholic Church in deep turmoil.
The 85-year-old pope cited his declining health that made it difficult to perform his duties.
“I confess that today’s news caught me off guard. At the age of 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope and thrust onto the world stage. In these past eight years, Pope Benedict XVI has shown himself to be an outstanding international leader, a man of peace and justice.
The Holy Father has a shepherd’s heart, and in his commitment to do what is best for the Church, has concluded that this course is best. I am saddened by the news,” said Bishop Roger Morin of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi in a statement.
“The faithful of the Diocese of Biloxi join me in expressing heartfelt gratitude for the example and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. We pray for continued blessings upon him as he prepares for retirement.”
Bishop Joseph N. Latino of the Diocese of Jackson said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI has made a decision that he feels is in the best interest of the Catholic church.
“The papacy is a very demanding role and position in our church. It takes great wisdom to reach a decision such as this and we admire him for acting prudently on behalf of our church and his own sake.
“Pope Benedict has led our church since 2005. During this time he has worked for greater understanding among faith traditions, and spoke out on behalf of truth and justice tempered with mercy. He continued to engage us in a dialogue on these truths and the dangers of moral relativism.
“We offer him our fervent prayers for fruitful retirement years and we thank him for his life of service to our church and indeed the world,” Latino said.
Each bishop also offered prayers to the College of Cardinals who will convene in March to elect a successor to Pope Benedict.