When Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign at the end of February, Georgetowners joined Catholics around the world wondering what the pontiff's decision might mean in the coming weeks and for the future of the Catholic Church.
"To me it was a very humble act," Rev. Kevin O'Brien, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown University, told Patch in an interview.
"It is a recognition that the mission of the church is larger than any one man," O'Brien added.
Georgetown resident and blogger about art and Catholicism, William Newton, told Patch he was both surprised and not by the pope's decision. Since it has been some 600 years since the last time a pope resigned, there is an element of surprise. But Newton said the pope had seemed frail of late and had said previously said he would step down if he ever felt he could not do his job.
"My guess is that he looked at his looming schedule for Lent and Holy Week and just decided that he was not going to be able to manage it anymore," said Newton.
O'Brien said the timing of the pope's decision at the beginning of the holy season of Lent makes sense.
"Lent is a very good time for the church to do a discernment about its future," he said.
Announcing a new pope before Easter would be a "wonderful symbol" said O'Brien, noting that the new pontiff would start his first few weeks in the role during Easter, a time of "great hope."
The next pope will be selected by the conclave, the group of cardinals under the age of 80 who will pray together and vote to select the next pope.
As of Feb. 11 there are 118 cardinal electors, of whom 67 were appointed by Benedict, but several of those will turn 80 in the next few weeks and may not be able to vote, depending on when the conclave meets, according to America Magazine: The National Catholic Review.
It is unclear whether Benedict will be part of the conclave himself, or even what his title will be once he has stepped down. Though O'Brien said he does not expect the current pope to be part of choosing his successor especially since by church law Benedict would be too old to vote were he still a cardinal.
Often the pope is chosen from among the members of the conclave, a fellow cardinal, though the cardinals are free to choose someone who is not among their ranks.
"The Church believes and teaches that the Holy Spirit guides the Conclave in voting," Newton explained.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, will be among the cardinals in the conclave to select the next pope.
So while factors like age, health or even country of origin may be something each cardinal considers, the process is different from a political election.
"They are choosing this in prayer, not like a political party caucus. Remember that each of them firmly believes that it is his duty to vote as he is spiritually guided, and not as he himself might personally wish," Newton explained.
O'Brien said he expects these and many more details to be explained in the days and weeks to come before the conclave.
As for whom the next pope might be, both O'Brien and Newton expect much murmuring over the next few weeks.
Before Ratzinger, now Benedict, was chosen, his name was not one being tossed around in discussions about the next pope.
"The real answer is that although no one actually knows, everyone claims to have the inside track, and more often than not they are completely wrong," Newton said.
Many of the cardinals who will make up this conclave were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI himself or by Pope John Paul II.
"My one prediction for this process is that they are going to reach their decision fairly quickly, probably in under a week," Newton opined.
And as for Benedict, O'Brien expects he will take up his studies once more.
"In a sense this will be for him a relief to be able to return to a quieter life which he well deserves," O'Brien added.
Read more about papal transition here.
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Get more reaction from DC resident's on the pope's decision.