Ossining and Croton Catholics were surprised to hear of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation Feb. 11 on grounds of ill health.
"I am happy that the pope recognized that it was time to step down," said Sue Byrne, a longtime parishioner at St. Augustine Church in Ossining. "I hope the church seizes the opportunity to elect a pope who will be more forward-thinking."
Monsignor Hilary C. Franco of St. Augustine's said he was woken up with the news early this morning.
"It was 6:15 when I got the call from my friends in the Vatican," he recalled. "I spent 26 years in the Vatican, so I guess they wanted to update me on the situation."
Unlike other local clergy who were openly surprised at the announcement, Franco, who knows Pope Benedict XVI personally, wasn't as shocked.
"I am not surprised since I knew him a long time ago," he shared. "I know the Holy Father Benedict XVI loved the church all his life...He is a dedicated, conscientious man."
Franco said he understands the Pope's reasons behind the decision.
"He decided he is going to let someone else take over," he explained. "He's a man of great faith and he's a man of great love for the church. He felt that he had to do this."
Fran Gennarelli, a Croton-on-Hudson resident who attends Holy Name of Mary Church, said he learned about it listening to Imus in the Morning on the radio.
"First it was a shock—popes don't just resign like that—then I heard he was 85," Gennarelli said.
What comes next certainly will be fascinating and educational, Gennarelli pointed out, whether you've visited the Sistine Chapel or just seen it in the movies or photos.
"The process will be neat to watch," he said. "You picture these cardinals from all over the world locking themselves in and they can't leave until they pick a new pope."
Msgr. John Ferry, Regional Vicar of Central Westchester, said he "was personally surprised" when he heard the announcement this morning on the radio.
"I think he left his mark on the church," Ferry told Patch. "He is a very brilliant man. He's written a lot of books on (the life of) Jesus" and issued a lot of important statements.
"It was a courageous decision on his part" to realize he was diminished by age and to decide to leave the papacy, the monsignor said.
"I give him a lot of credit for making this difficult decision," Ferry said.
Still, the resignation puzzled Gabe Boivin, who took a minute to talk before the lunch rush from Croton-Harmon High School into Grouchy Gabe's on the Old Post Road.
"I think most people like me will start questioning it," said Boivin, a lapsed Catholic. "For 600 years every pope has died in office. This one resigns?"
The Cortlandt resident said he wondered about the timing, citing events in Los Angeles—the banning of Cardinal Mahoney from public duties by the current archbishop and the release of personnel files of 89 priests in the child sex abuse scandal there.
"I think what is occurring is that they have a lot of politics and moral issues overlapping with the religious system," Boivin said.
Franco said he will "certainly" be bringing this news into his future masses in Ossining.
"We will pray for him, we will pray also for the next one," he said. "I continue to admire him."
Gennarelli said it will be interesting to see how young the new pope will be—and from where, considering that the last two were not Italians.
"Ideally, the new pope will come from South America or Africa," said Byrne, a Briarcliff Manor resident. "I know that is far-fetched, considering the cardinals who will be doing the electing."