As news of the resignation of Pope Benedict spreads across the world, Wellingtonian catholics are waking to the news.
Benedict, 85, announced overnight that he would step down by the end of the month, citing ill health.
Archbishop of Wellington John Dew said Pope Benedict had come across as wonderfully warm and gentle, despite expectations when he was elected that he would take a hard approach.
News of the pope's resignation had come as a total surprise.
"Obviously it was a decision he made, as he said, after much thought and prayer and examining his own conscience, wanting to be able to do the best for the church throughout the world," Dew said.
"I think it's going to be a time for the Church throughout the world to be praying for the best possible replacement ... No doubt there will be a lot of speculation because we really never know who will be chosen."
Initiatives by Pope Benedict which had an impact on Catholics in this country included the year of St Paul, a year for priests, and a year of faith that was now under way.
"In New Zealand people have responded to those years with all sorts of initiatives. A lot of study of St Paul in that year, a lot of initiatives to reflect on priesthood, and to promote the vocation of priesthood, and to help people understand what it is," Dew said.
When World Youth Day was held in Sydney in 2008 it was the first time the event had been held in this part of the world.
"We were very involved, and many, many hundreds of young people went across to Sydney for that ... He came across very, very well to the huge numbers of people who turned out.
"Those sort of things have certainly impacted on the church here in New Zealand."
The pope was a man of "super intellect", who brought a steady hand to the role.
"Because he had years as the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which really defended Church teachings, he was sort of expected to be very hard and harsh when he was elected. But he came across as this wonderfully warm, gentle gentleman, really. And I think that's had a huge impact on the world."
The pope had been particularly aware that Europe had once been fully Christian, and he had an aim to re-Christianise, and re-evangelise the continent.
"He was very aware of that, and worked hard to do that," Dew said.
"His whole thing has been to help people to have belief in God, and without God - and for us as Christians, without a relationship with Jesus Christ - life doesn't have a lot of meaning."
On issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage, Pope Benedict had been clear.
"On any of those topics, you could say he was very clear - the Church is very clear - that these are the truths of the faith and because they're truths they can't be changed. That's really been his, and the Church's stance," Dew said.
"That's obviously been the way he's taught, and would want people to continue to reflect on the fact that these are eternal truths made known to us by God and taught through the Church."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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