'Humble' man's decision must have been tough

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
STANDING DOWN:  Pope Benedict will resign on February 28.
Reuters
STANDING DOWN: Pope Benedict will resign on February 28.

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When New Zealand teenager Vincent Phua met the Pope he gave him a banana and some coffee beans.

Pope Benedict XVI has revealed in a historic announcement that he no longer has the mental and physical strength to run the Roman Catholic Church. He will be the first pope in 600 years to resign.

The meeting - and choice of food - was a security mix-up but Vincent said he would never forget coming face to face with the outgoing pontiff.

"He seemed unfazed and humble. He was a little confused when I said I was from New Zealand," he said.

Vincent and his friend Dominic Light, both now 19, were part of a school group that travelled to Madrid for the 2011 Catholic World Youth.

Plucked from hundreds of thousands of young Catholics, their group was one of a few chosen to greet the Pope as he came into the city.

Due to a mix-up in his security identity, Vincent was deemed an honorary African, handed coffee beans and bananas and told to represent his continent.

Dominic also met the Pope that day - as a New Zealander - shaking his hand and asking him to bless his rosary beads.

"I couldn't really think of anything to say. What do you say to the Pope?"

Both young men were shocked yesterday to learn Benedict was resigning as pontiff. Dominic said the Pope had seemed like a humble man whose intelligence and theological knowledge had been a great asset to the church.

However, reports that his health was failing and limiting his travel meant the decision to step aside was the right one.

"I think he feels he is not up to it any more. It must have been an incredibly difficult decision."

Contact Ben Heather
Social Issues reporter
Email: ben.heather@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @BHeatherJourno

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