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Catholic Priests Struggle To Make Sense Of Pope's Resignation

A moment for reflection
A moment for reflection
Michele Brambilla

VATICAN CITY - A long queue of men dressed in black is winding silently around St. Peter’s Square: They are Roman priests here to say their last goodbyes to Benedict XVI at a recent Vatican audience.

When he decided to resign, did it cross the Pope’s mind that the cross he'd bear would also affect thousands of parish priests? What would he say to his astonished shepherds of the faithful flock? How can these priests encourage their congregations -- think, for example, of a married couple in crisis -- to weather the difficult times if even the Holy Father must let go?

“Initially, even for us it was a shock,” said Antonio Lauri, a priest in a local church in Rome, “It’s normal to ask: Why? What’s the meaning of it?”

But the divine purpose, rather quickly, began to reveal itself. "After some time," says Lauri, "I began to see it as a courageous decision, generous and modern -- one that is intended to shock the Church.”

How did his parishioners take the resignation announcement? “They were very upset," Lauri concedes. "It’s the first time that this has happened during our times and so -- unfortunately -- there was the comparison with the agony that John Paul went through.”

Don Savino Lombardi, from the Orionine order, notes that he took the three canonic vows- poverty, chastity and obedience- but also a fourth vow of loyalty to the Pope that is required for his order, like with the Jesuits.

“We were all left surprised, it was like we had lost a point of reference,” Lombardi said. “But Benedict XVI has the capacity and the intelligence to make a choice of this nature.” Was it the assistance of the Holy Spirit that helped the decision? “Just because of who he is, the Pope has a place before God. I told this to the faithful in my congregation: I’m convinced that he made this decision after a long reflection and a lot of praying. And the Holy Spirit did work.”

Strength in weakness

After last Monday's surprise announcement, there were plenty of tears “especially the women” said don Fabrizio Benincampi. “I tried to comfort them, telling them to remember, above all, one thing: Don't be overwhelmed by all of the media coverage. Use your own discernment.”

Benincampi says that we must look at this event with the logic that in this upside-down world, the Gospel remains: “There’s great strength even within an admission of real weakness. I believe that it can be confirmed in the words of St. Paul: ‘when I am weak, that is when I am strong’.”

So, what will become of the Church on February 28, when Benedict is flown away by helicopter? One of the priests is sturdied by the past: “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. We must remember the words of Jesus that another pope, John Paul II, repeated at the beginning of his pontificate: "Be not afraid."”

As Ratzinger speaks off the cuff, and even jokes, at the General Audience, the question returns: why is he resigning? At the same time, his calmness gives the impression that he made the right decision. The ceremony ends with Benedict assuring his priests that he will not leave them alone: “Retired in my prayers, I will always be with you in the certainty that the Lord will prevail.”

“It’s very difficult,” Don Elio Lops confides on the way out. “The people are worried. In Rome, the Pope is everything. Even for us priests it’s hard to understand. But, we must believe that everything that happens is willed by God. One day, we will understand.”

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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