Tributes from across the Middle East have been paid to Pope Benedict XVI who announced this week he would be stepping down as the Successor of Peter on Feb. 28th. Addressing pilgrims at today's weekly general audience, the Pontiff said he had made the decision "in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God."
(Rome/e.p.) - Tributes from across the Middle East have been paid to Pope Benedict XVI who announced this week he would be stepping down as the Successor of Peter on Feb. 28th.
Custos Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM said he was "stunned by the news" but added it is a gesture "we must understand in its profundity because it is quite new for the Church."
"We shall see where it will end," he said. "His action is truly important. We need time to digest it. Somehow, I think it demystifies in a positive way some aspects of the Petrine Ministry."
He noted that Benedict XVI has always been close to the Church in the Holy Land, recalling in particular his major visit to the region in 2009 and the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. "I am certain that the Holy See will continue to be concerned about the Holy Land," he said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said he was "saddened" by the Pope's decision but said relations with the Holy See were the best they had ever been, and wished him "a long and healthy life".
"Pope Benedict has the depth of a great thinker, the sincerity of a great believer, the passion of a peace maker, and the wisdom to relate to changes in history without changing his values," he said.
"When Pope Benedict XVI visited Jerusalem and the Holy Land, I welcomed him with a word common to both our faiths - shalom - and under his leadership the Vatican has been a clear voice against racism and anti-Semitism and a clear voice for peace," he continued.
"Relations between Israel and the Vatican are the best they have ever been and the positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a testament to his belief in dialogue and cooperation."
The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, said: "I greatly appreciate him for his immense activity to interfaith connection that has contributed greatly to the reduction of anti-Semitism in the world."
Meanwhile, the Al-Azhar university in Cairo said Feb. 13 that it hopes for "relations based on respect and reciprocal appreciation after the recent changes at the Vatican".
Dialogue between the Vatican and Al-Azhar was severed in January 2011 after the Pope called for the protection of Christian minorities following a suicide bombing on December 31, 2010, at a church in Alexandria. Al-Azhar felt the Pope had made comments which were an "unacceptable intervention in Egypt's affairs" but the Vatican stressed that was not the Pope's intention and his comments were misinterpreted.
Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down on Feb. 11th, saying he was too frail to continue.
Addressing pilgrims at today's weekly general audience, he said he had made the decision "in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands."
He added he was "strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care."
He also expressed gratitude for the "love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me."
"In these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me," he said. "Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us."
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