Parishoners shocked at Pope's resignation

With the sudden resignation Pope Benedict, Father Philip Billingat prays in the Grey Street Cathedral, Hamilton.
With the sudden resignation Pope Benedict, Father Philip Billingat prays in the Grey Street Cathedral, Hamilton.

Catholic parishoners around the Waikato are reeling from news their leader Pope Benedict was preparing to resign as head of the Catholic Church.

The news reached Fr Philip Billing after he celebrated 6.30am mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton.

''I had to question whether the person who told me had heard correctly - so I went in and watched CNN and local news and sure enough, there it was,'' the Cathedral parish priest said.

Like most Catholics, Fr Philip's first reaction was one of shock for the pontiff he described as a ''truly great shepherd''.

''He set the compass for the Catholic Church for the 21st century. This year he called for a year of faith for the Church to deepen its relationship with the faith and to give the people hope,'' he said.

Parishoner Maraia Tabudravu, 25, was one of more than 50 parishoners attending midday mass at the Cathedral today.

She was shocked to learn of the Pope's decision.

''Perhaps though this is a chance for somebody younger - who has more energy for the rigours of such a role, it's actually quite exciting,'' she said.

A sentiment shared by many who believed the radical resignation may pave the way for an equally radical approach to the future direction of the Catholic Church.

The shock resignation - the first in more than 600 years - has had far reaching effects crossing continents and denominations.

The Anglican Bishop of Waikato is just weeks away from taking up the position of ambassador to the Pope in Rome - a role he was handpicked for, by the global leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Today Bishop Moxon reflected on Pope Benedict's work in forging stronger relationships between the Catholic and Anglican Church.

''He was the first Pope to visit Lambeth Palace in London, the home and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury,'' he said.

''We respect his decision - it is one of integrity and we have certainly appreciated the things he did to help communication between us.''

Fr Philip said while it was difficult to speculate on the outcome of a new papal conclave he was confident the Church had many potential leaders capable of building on the work Pope Benedict had started.

''We have a number of strong candidates, including Cardinals from Africa, Asia, Central and South America - so yes it's possible we could see some big changes ahead - but they will guided by the Holy Spirit who will help breathe new life into the Church,'' he said.