Word of Pope Benedict XVIs impending resignation as leader of the Roman Catholic Church today quickly spread through the Diocese of Sacramento.
The pope said today that he will resign his position on Feb. 28. The pontiff, 85, has decided to step aside, saying that his strength is waning.
Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto had this to say about the pope's announcement.:
"True to his deep devotion for the Church and a humble regard for himself, Pope Benedict, with personal courage and pastoral solicitude, has placed the care of God's people first. This is a historic transition for the Church. As always, we will rely on the wisdom and mercy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd."
The Sacramento Diocese is one of 12 in California. It stretches across 20 counties.
Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Sacramento Diocese, said that the news would be a surprise to Catholics.
"I don't think anybody woke up this morning expecting the first papal resignation in 600 years," he said.
Eckery called the pope's actions "an act of courage," making way for a successor before he became too aged or infirm. It another sign of the pope putting the needs of the institution and people of the Catholic church first, Eckery said.
"From the very beginning he has always established that it is not about him," said Eckery. "This is consistent with that. That is the biggest thing that impresses me."
Eckery said the pope knows that it is important to be physically vital, in addition to being mentally fit.
"He certainly is emotionally and intellectually vital, but I think that he is concerned that he just didn't have the physical health to run such an institution," said Eckery.
Maggie Kawasaki-Murray, a former youth minister for the Newman Catholic Community at Sacramento State, said news of the pope's announcement was the first thing on her Facebook feed when she woke up.
"My reaction was complete surprise," she said. "There had been no indication that he desired to retire. In the past, when a pope has been sick, we usually heard about it beforehand. With all he has experienced while pope, he has handled himself well."
Kawasaki-Murray attended an open-air Mass in Australia in 2008 for World Youth Day. She said that Pope Benedict had a peaceful presence when he spoke at the Mass.
"He is doing what his heart is telling him," she said of the Pope's surprising announcement.
Roman Catholic parishioner Laurette Elsberry said that she heartened by Pope Benedict XVI's orthodoxy and "efforts to clarify sound and effective moral teachings and practices."
She said the pope worked diligently to appoint strong bishops. Elsberry said "things were just starting to turn around in California," especially after the appointment of Archbishop Jose Gomez in Los Angeles and Gomez' action in disciplining his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony.
"So many in California rejoiced over that," Elsberry said. "I certainly believe that the Pope was involved with this decision. We will pray that his successor will continue with some of Benedict's reforms."