MANILA—People across the mainly Catholic Philippines feel regret, gratitude and sympathy after Pope Benedict XVI announced plans on Monday to resign, a presidential spokesman said.
“Not only the Catholic world, but all peoples and nations of goodwill are filled with great regret,” one of President Benigno Aquino’s spokesmen, Edwin Lacierda, said in a statement.
“At this time, when the pope has announced the physical challenges he faces makes it difficult to continue bearing the burdens of his office, we join the Catholic world and all whose lives he has touched in prayer and sympathy.”
The 85-year-old pope announced on Monday he would resign because of health reasons.
Lacierda praised the pope for showing humility by resigning, while highlighting the sympathy the pontiff expressed for Filipinos when the country was hit by deadly storms and other disasters.
“We recall, in particular, with fond gratitude, the many prayers and comforting words Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated to Filipinos in times of calamity and challenge,” he said in a statement.
Lacierda also cited the pope’s role in many events that rallied Catholics in the Philippines, such as last year’s canonisation of Pedro Calungsod, who became the second Filipino saint in history.
The Philippines is regarded as Asia’s bastion of Catholicism. About 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of three centuries of Spanish colonialism that ended in the late 1800s.
The church still wields great influence in the Philippines, where divorce and abortion are illegal.
However Aquino overcame fierce church opposition to this year push through a birth control law that requires government health centers to give away contraceptives to the poor and for sex education to be taught in schools.
Elvira Go, who runs a Catholic-themed restaurant in Manila called Ristorante de la Mitre, said she was extremely saddened by the pope’s resignation but praised his decision.
“He has been sick and he had the best intention of the church in mind. He is an intellectual who is loved by all the cardinals. He would not have resigned if he thought he still had the strength to continue,” Go said.
“This is the time to show unity, especially now that the church is under attack from many of its enemies.”
Ivy Taalip, in her 30s, from a Christianized tribal community in the far south of the Philippines who works in Manila as a maid, sent text messages back to her family after watching the story break on television.
“The news is shocking. I am very sad, so are my siblings and parents. I am praying that his health improves,” she said.
“It is God’s will. The church has always taught us that God has mysterious ways. But what will happen to the church now?”