Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign on Feb. 28 is "an act of great courage and humility," Allentown Diocese Bishop John Barres said in a statement issued Monday.
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Barres noted that the pope's decision to step down due to failing health came on -- not coincidentally -- the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.
"His contemplative serenity and radiant joy as the Vicar of Christ has inspired the entire world," said Barres, who leads 270,000 Catholics across the Allentown Diocese, including about 67,000 in Lehigh County and 76,000 in Northampton County.
Barres recalled fondly a fleeting encounter with Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome before Ratzinger became Pope:
"I have a wonderful memory of going to the North American College in Rome during my graduate student priest days. As I walked down the Janiculum Hill one night, I came upon then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was walking up the hill on the other side of the street. He gave me this radiant smile after his long day and waved. It touched me deeply"
In December 2011, at the Pennsylvania Bishops Ad Limina visit, Barres had "a wonderful and animated discussion with Pope Benedict and I had the opportunity to thank him personally for his recent catechesis on prayer in which he teaches the universal Church the importance of sacrificing deeply to pray deeply."
Monsignor John P. Murphy of St. Thomas More Church in Salisbury Township said Pope Benedict XVI practiced what he preached.
"I think [Pope Benedict] did what he always said should be done," Murphy said. "He said that when he no longer felt the energy, health and wisdom to carry out the office, he should indeed retire.
Murphy said you can't ask a religious leader to do better than that.
"He did what he thought was best for the Catholic Church," he said.
At the Lehigh Valley's Catholic university -- DeSales in Center Valley -- the Rev. Thomas Dailey said the pope's decision is "not your usual retirement."
"The last pope to resign was in 1245, when Pope Celestine V decreed, after just five months in office, that it is permissible for a pope to resign and did so," said Dailey, director of the Salesian Center for Ethics at DeSales.
A more recent "retirement" occurred in 1415, but under duress, explained Dailey.
Dailey feels Pope Benedict will leave behind a legacy of deep intellectualism and return to Catholic doctrine.
"This is a man with a great mind. He combined that great working mind with his faith."
Included in his legacy with be the "Year of Faith," an initiative of Pope Benedict's described by Dailey as "a new evangelization" of the Catholic Church. "Traditional missions bring the message of Christ to those who haven't heard of him yet. This mission is to renew the message to all Christians, of all denominations."
The pope's announcement on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes -- Lourdes is a shrine of healing in France -- may be designed to draw "attention not just to his physical health but his intellectual health and his stamina."
"I think that by making this declaration today, he's calling the world's attention that the lack of vigorous health is part of the human experience."
When asked about whether Pope Benedict "modernized the church," Dailey said:
"It depends on what you mean. He has a website, he's on Twitter, so in that way yes. Otherwise, quite frankly, no. No pope takes his direction from the way the world works."