"Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign on February 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"
At the Lehigh Valley's Catholic University -- DeSales in Center Valley -- Father 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 University
On her Facebook page Monday, Easton Catholic Lillian Robinson posted two words: "Papal hope."
She said the Pope's announcement left her with mixed emotions. On one hand, she said she understood his need to step down.
"Leaders need to be strong," she said. "They can't be sick or getting sick."
On the other hand, it comes at a time when members of her parish -- Our Lady of Mercy on Easton's South Side -- are faced with having to move due to a church that needs expensive repairs.
"Initially I felt heartbroken," Robinson said. "'Oh, another change.'"