Rev. Dennis O'Neill was as surprised as anyone else to hear of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement Monday.
"Cardinal George just came back from Rome, and he didn't know a thing about it," said O'Neill, pastor of St. Martha Catholic Church in Morton Grove. "It's another shift in the papacy which we're experiencing for the first time in my lifetime."
Rev. Michael Meany, pastor of St. John Brebeuf Church in Niles, said Pope Benedict has been a great transitional pope after Pope John Paul II, who became associated with the flourishing of the Church in the face of Communist oppression in Poland. John Paul II, who became pope in his 50s, also had time and energy to travel the world and evangelize.
"I would imagine (Benedict) felt his goal was to provide continuity and steady the ship of the church, knowing with his age and circumstances that he would not be John Paul II in personality," Meany commented. "Pope Benedict is more of a scholar."
Meany feels it's a hopeful time as the Catholic church readies to choose a new pope.
"God is surprises," he observed. "This is an opportunity to be reinvigorated with faith and make a difference in the world, passing on a sense of hope, peace and justice."
Rev. Christopher Gustafson, pastor of Our Lady of Ransom parish in Niles, was struck that both John Paul II and Benedict sought lessons in their illnesses. He wrote:
"The news of the Holy Father's decision to resign has certainly come as a surprise to most of us, but wonderfully so as it offers us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our own lives and the work the Lord has entrusted to us.
"It strikes me how both of our recent popes have tried to teach us not only with their words, but by their example in embracing sickness, aging and dying.
"As Blessed Pope John Paul II became increasingly debilitated with Parkinsons, there were many who were raising the issue of whether or not he should resign.
"As the great articulator of the Gospel of Life, I believe JP II tried to emphasize that the value of human life is not based on functionality and utility, but on the inherent dignity it possesses as a gift from God.
"He also bore witness to our deeply held belief that the suffering, debilitated person can offer much from the sick bed when he or she unites that suffering to Christ for the sake of others.
"That point being made, I wonder now if Pope Benedict XVI is also teaching about the grace-filled acceptance of our aging and decreased capacity in energy and ability to fulfill our ministries.
"He has prayerfully sought to discern God's will for him and the Church at this stage of his life in light of his decreasing abilities vis-a-vis the requirements of the Petrine Ministry. It offers us a beautiful example of how we should continually seek to discern the Lord's will throughout our lives at every stage to ensure that those God has entrusted unto our care are best served."