CRESTVIEW — Following surprise and shock from Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation, local Catholics are relying on their faith to see their church through a period of transition.
"I think the first reaction was shock, amazement and 'is this true?'" the Rev. John Cayer, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Crestview, said of his parishioners' reaction to the news. The pontiff on Monday said he would resign Feb. 28 due to declining health. "Then after that initial shock, I think they appeal to their faith, in which they appeal to the eternal shepherd instead of the earthly shepherd.
"I implored them to trust in this entire process that Pope Benedict has started, and that God will guide them through this, as he has the last 2,000 years."
Crestview High School senior Alma Masters, 17, said she believes plenty of prayer preceded what must have been a difficult decision for the pontiff.
"My reaction, actually, was he's a very wise man for doing it," Alma said. "Because if you don't think you can fulfill the role anymore, it's better to step down rather than sticking it out and something going bad. I'm sure he definitely prayed about it a lot and put a lot of thought into it."
"I'm just glad he did the right thing," Lynette Rogers, a Crestview mother of two, said. "If he felt he was not able to do his job, I think he made the right decision. Hopefully, they (church leaders) will realize we need to maybe pick a younger pope."
Nellie Golden, of Crestview, said she believes the church will continue on the path the pope has set, but understands his decision to step down.
"He is quite old, so I can understand that he is not able to do his duty any more," she said. "There are a lot of cardinals who are available to assume the duties of pope."
The process of selecting a new pope will begin soon, and will provide continuity within the faith, Cayer said.
"You have the College of Cardinals coming together in what we call the Conclave; they vote and the majority rules. It's the participation of man and God in the process, and we have to ultimately trust in the process," he said.
"Hopefully it won't change anything in the way things run in the church," Rogers said.
"I think some would like to sensationalize it because it has such a global impact, so no doubt it's going to affect the church on every level," Cayer said. "But for the faithful, Jesus said, 'Do not fear.' He cares for all his creation and he will care for his church."
Cayer said he received an email from a friend stating Internet gambling sites were accepting bets on whom the College of Cardinals will select for the next pope. As wagers come in, some cardinals' names rise above others as their odds improve, he said.
"It's amazing," Cayer said. "They have all the cardinals listed. Even amongst the gamblers, they seem to know who's who."
Cayer said he advised his congregation to be prayerful as the process takes its course.
"I think the best approach to this whole process is to remain rooted in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide his church," he said. "Once we do that, it will cast out any fear."
Almasaid she and her family — including her parents Richard and Maria, brothers Jason and Derrick, and sister Yvonne — have kept the pope and their church in their prayers.
"We definitely include him in our prayers because he's the high figure in our belief," Alma said. "I hope he's doing well and that he made the right decision."
As for Benedict's successor, Cayer joked, "I put my application in and am waiting for them to receive it.
"The Holy Spirit can land on anyone."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.