MANATEE -- Faith in the future of the Roman Catholic Church remains strong in Manatee County and the Diocese of Venice, despite Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he will resign Feb. 28.
"I know this is a shock for some people, said Father Rev. Rafal Ligenza, parochial vicar at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Bradenton, during Monday morning Mass. "We have to realize that Pope Benedict is also a man. We have to be just thankful for what Pope Benedict XVI has done for us."
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, hospitalized while recovering from a broken hip, expressed gratitude for "Pope Benedict's remarkable ministry as the successor of Saint Peter.
"It is no coincidence that the Holy Father concluded his statement assuring the church that he will devote his remaining years to 'serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer,'" the bishop said in a statement released by the diocese.
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More than 45 people filled the chapel at the 11 a.m. Mass at Saint Joseph.
Afterwards, two women gathered for prayer at a statue of the Virgin Mary.
"We're part of the church. The church is our mother and the pope is our father, so without him, without the church, we are hurt. Whatever happens to him happens to us. It goes straight to our hearts," said Marie Regis, a 13-year member of Saint Joseph.
"It's a shock. We're not used to it. Usually it's not done like that, so we're concerned," she said.
Regis looked forward to the upcoming conclave, the process by which 120 Roman Catholic cardinals will lock themselves into the Vatican to decide who will be the next pope. "I'm praying that the Holy Spirit guides the cardinals so that they pick the right one, the one that Jesus would want to replace Pope Benedict XVI," Regis said.
Regis and her friend Resette Jean Baptiste looked to each other for support at the feet of the Madonna.
"This is the year of faith and our faith will make the church stronger," Jean Baptiste said. "I think that's a very good occasion to make our faith stronger."
Other parishioners responded calmly to the news.
Tomasz Zuraynsky of Bradenton said, "I just pray and hope this is going to be good for our church, the Catholic Church. Of course it is unprecedented since it hasn't happened in 600 years since the pope resigned, but I hope it is going to be good for our church."
"He's been a wonderful pope. I know that God in his wisdom allowed this decision of his to be made. I think it's thoughtful. I think its full of wisdom," said Ada Feldman. "He's hung in there almost beyond what he could."
Father Ligenza said he learned about the pope's resignation from a couple he met early Monday morning for a wedding rehearsal.
"I was surprised and I saw this surprise also among the parishioners. I like to say I respect his decision because it happened also maybe because of his age and so many health problems."
For Deacon Ron Dains of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Bradenton, the news came as a shock, quite unexpected. "I didn't see any signs of that coming. He was active, visible, available.
"I think people are saddened by his leaving. Of course, he did what he was called by God to do, as I do with my calling. We're waiting for the white smoke now," he said, referring to the signal from the College of Cardinals that a new pope has been chosen.
"It is a sign of tremendous humility," said Billy Atwell, director of communications for the diocese. "It's not easy to recognize our own limitations. ... It was a sign of humility that he saw he wasn't able to and he is still the holy father."