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Pope Benedict announces that he will step down

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Pope Benedict XVI receives a gift from the chief rabbis of Israel during the Pontiff’s visit in 2009. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, left, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar present Pope Benedict with a sculpture of the Western Wall. [Israel Sun photo]

ROME — In a shocking announcement, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that he will step down from the papacy at the end of the month because he can no longer carry out his duties at his “advanced age” and with his – apparently – failing health.

Following the announcement, a spokesman for Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger wished the Pope well and said relations between Israel and the Holy See had become the best ever during Pope Benedict’s papacy.

In today’s world, the Pope said Monday afternoon in a declaration in Latin issued by the Vatican, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

The declaration continued, saying that Pope Benedict, “well aware of the seriousness of this act and with full freedom,” renounced the papacy “entrusted” to him by the cardinals on April 19, 2005, and will no longer be Pope as of Feb. 28.

Though the Pope’s brother told the German news agency DPA that Benedict had been weighing the decision for months, the announcement came as a shock. This is the first resignation of a reigning pope in modern times. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415, who was trying to end a civil war within the church.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope after the death of Polish-born Pope John Paul II. John Paul had made bettering relations with the Jewish world and Israel one of the cardinal points of his papacy.

Rabbi Metzger praised Pope Benedict’s outreach to Jews and other religious groups during his tenure. “During his period, there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue,” Reuters quoted Rabbi Metzger’s spokesman as saying. “I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” He wished Pope Benedict “good health and long days.”

The FCJE, the umbrella organization representing Spanish Jews, said in a statement issued shortly after the announcement that it “respected” the Pope’s decision.

“As pope, Benedict XVI acted with great intellectual rigour that undoubtedly contributed to Catholic-Jewish relations,” the statement read. “We wish the Pope a long life and encourage him to continue working for peace between peoples after leaving the post.”

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