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Asia reacts to pope's resignation

Mixed feelings on Benedict's tenure

Asia reacts to pope's resignation
Pope Benedict's resignation was greeted in Asia with mixed emotions (file photo: Wikimedia Commons) reporters, Asia

February 12, 2013

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Clerics and lay Catholics across Asia are coming to terms with Pope Benedict’s announcement on Monday that he would step down as pontiff.

Some have expressed shock at the resignation – the first since Gregory XII stepped down in 1415.

Others say they had suspected that Benedict’s eight-year pontificate would end this way.

However, there was wider agreement that his successor should heed the growing vitality and importance of Asia to the Universal Church.

“The new pope should be open to dialogue with the bishops of the world, forge good relationships with them, empower the local as well as the Universal Church pastorally,” said Holy Cross Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka.

He added that what the Church needs now is a guide, not an autocrat.

Muliawan Margadana, chairman of the Indonesian Catholic Graduates and Intellectuals Association, was more explicit.

"I hope that in coming days the next pope will give more attention to the fast-growing Church in Asia and Africa. If possible, I wish the new pope will come from Asia or Africa.”

Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said Pope Benedict was an ally of the Church in Pakistan, where its minority status often puts it at odds with the predominantly Muslim population.

“He was supportive of our stance regarding the blasphemy law and other issues related to the minority Christian community.”

Meanwhile two Indian cardinals, who will join the consistory to elect the next pope, praised Benedict XVI for his contributions to the Indian Church.

“Pope Benedict XVI has always shown great affection for me and for the Malankara Catholic Church. Without him, the Church would not have received recognition so easily,” said Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Church, installed as cardinal in November last year.

Cardinal George Alencherry, installed in February last year, said he was not surprised by the resignation and that despite what he saw as the pontiff’s declining health, Benedict remained a vital force for the Indian Church.

“The Holy Father may have been weak because of poor health in past months, but he had clarity of vision and communication, and always kept the Oriental Church in high esteem,” he said.

In Myanmar, where the Church has attempted to keep pace with democratic reforms as the country attempts to overcome decades of authoritarian rule, Church leaders characterized Benedict’s abdication as courageous.

Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Gawng of Mandalay said Benedict showed “great courage and humility” in recognizing his diminished capacity to fulfill his duties.

While acknowledging hopes that the next pontiff would come from outside Europe, Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon admitted that this was not likely.

“It is very hard to guess who Benedict’s successor will be, but I think he will come from Europe or South America,” he said.

For some, the abdication presents the Church with an opportunity to embrace real change and break from tradition in the selection of a new pope.

Father Bartholomew Choi Jae-yong, a retired priest from South Korea's Suwon diocese, suggested that the Church suffered from having an elderly pope.

“When I see images of an old and feeble pope in the media, it makes me think of the Church itself as old and feeble,” he said.

“We need a young pope who will lead the Church dynamically.”

Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, archbishop emeritus of Cebu, echoed these sentiments. 

Expressing admiration for Benedict, Cardinal Vidal – at 82, not allowed to participate in the consistory according to Canon Law – said changing times require a change in Church leadership.

“What can we do? The modern Church needs someone younger, someone who is physically fit,” he said.

Another Philippine cardinal will participate in the forthcoming consistory – Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Manila, who many have speculated since his elevation last year could be a bold if unlikely choice as successor.

At 55, and noted for his natural charisma with the media, Cardinal Tagle would seem to embody the hopes of many for a younger, more modern and, most importantly, non-European pontiff who reflects the changing demographic of the Church.

But despite such speculation, the news of Benedict’s departure was met with equanimity, gratitude for his service and hope for the future as the Church continues to face some of its most difficult challenges.

One such challenge is China.

Bishop Joseph Gan Junquiu of Guangzhou, recognized by the Chinese government and the Vatican, said Benedict had made a substantial impact on the embattled Church in China.

While relations between Beijing and Rome had not normalized as many had hoped under his guidance, Benedict had nonetheless provided essential guidance with a pastoral letter to China in 2007 that “could lay the foundation for this normalization in the future,” Bishop Gan said.

Oswald Cardinal Gracias, installed by Benedict in 2008 and one of 11 Asian bishops who will select the next pontiff, spoke for many in Asia in a statement that acknowledged the loss to the Church in Benedict’s abdication and hope that the Church would find a proper guide to take it forward.

“We will surely miss a great spiritual leader for our modern times – a man of clarity of thought on religious and secular issues and unafraid and courageous to speak the truth in matters of faith and morals,” said Oswald Cardinal Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, in a statement.

“At this moment we pray even more intensely for the Church that we get a leader of great holiness, wisdom, compassion and courage.”

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