It didn't take long for the news of Pope Benedict's decision to resign at the end of February to reach Salem this morning.
Father John Sheridan, the pastor of St. James, said he was just as shocked as everyone else to hear of the resignation but supports Benedict's decision to step down.
"Like everyone else, I was very much surprised but I understand because it’s a very difficult job and he's 85 years old." Sheridan said. "When Pope Benedict became our pope he said that when he didn’t feel he was up for the task he would be the first to let us know - and he did."
Sheridan said he had the opportunity to discuss the resignation with his parishioners Monday and learned that many had a similar response to the news: surprised but not worried.
"Folks have been talking back and forth and the people I spoke with have been surprised - they're not shocked or horrified." Sheridan said. "I think they expect the process to pick the next pope will go right along."
Also commenting on the resignation announcement was Immaculate Conception Church's pastor Father Timothy Murphy, who said he too was surprised but could understand the pope's decision.
Murphy pointed out that the day-to-day tasks that have to be performed by the pope and the air travel associated with the position can be overwhelming for an 85-year-old man.
Benedict said in a statement that he has come to the certainty that his strengths, "due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."
He went on to say that "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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
This is the first resignation of a pope in roughly 600 years.
Benedict's decision to resign was announced on Sunday, Feb. 10, just a few days before the Lenten season, which begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 13.
Lent is "a season of self-examination, fasting and penance in preparation for [the] Easter Day observance," Catholic.org explains.
After Benedict's last day, which is Feb. 28, The College of Cardinals will elect a new pope in conclave, a process where the cardinals are locked up in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel until they select a new pope.
Voting takes place two times in the morning and in the afternoon until a two-thirds majority votes in favor of one person. The ballots are burned after each round and smoke signals alert the outside world of the vote's outcome. Black smoke means no decision was made, and white smoke means a pope has been elected.
If a new pope is elected by Easter Sunday, March 31, he will give the Papal Blessing in Saint Peter's Square in front of the Basilica.
In Salem, St. James Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, Immaculate Conception Parish, and St. Anne Parish will soon form a collaboration of parishes. The new pastor of the four parishes is expected to be named by early April.