Rome reacts: a city, a nation and a Church comes to terms with Pope Benedict XVI's resignation

 

Rome

Just two months after Pope Benedict’s fanfare about communicating to the modern world with the new-fangled Twitter, he chose to announce he was quitting in Latin before a council of hoary cardinals.

As the rain lashed down on St Peter’s Square from an equally grey sky, the faithful and the curious were both confused about events – and the Pontiff’s motives, without knowing he had cited his failing physical capacity for the job.

Francesca Riga, 24, from Calabria in southern Italy, who was visiting Rome for a week, said she had heard the news of Ratzinger’s resignation only minutes earlier from  other tourists. “I’m shocked. I don’t know what to say. I think probably he’s very ill.  The Pope wouldn’t resign otherwise.”

In the early evening, a storm swept across the capital and lightening bolts lit up the heavens, causing the dwindling crowds in St Peter’s Square to scatter. Among them were Alex and Maria Ruiz, a middle-aged couple from Mexico. “We are very sad,” said Mr Ruiz, “but I think the Pope must have a good reason to leave. This is not normal. But we must respect his decision.”

Filippo, a 48-year-old taxi driver speaking on the Vatican side of the Tiber, was also shocked. “I’m still not sure what to say. I’m still stunned.” But he felt sure history would be kind to Pope Benedict. “He wasn’t a showman like John Paul II. But I liked the fact that he was reserved; a modest man, and very traditional. He wasn’t very flamboyant, but that’s probably because he was German,” he said.

He added the Pope Benedict hadn’t had the best of luck. But it looks like the lame-duck Pontiff will get out alive. Exactly a year ago Italian papers were reporting claims of a plot to assassinate him.

Elsewhere on Rome’s streets other Italians expressed satisfaction that Benedict was stepping down, even if they too had doubts about his reasons.

Eva Benelli 56-year-old housewife said:  “It’s was a surprise. But I’m asking myself, why has he resigned now. The other Popes carried on no matter how old or infirm they were. But I’m not sad he’s going. He was so far away from ordinary Italians.

“I’m not a practising Catholic, but let’s hope we can have a more progressive Pope, who pushes for better civil rights – for gays and divorced people. The situation in Italy is already quite shameful.”

Another Roman, Romeo Bassoli, 58, also thought the resignation of Benedict offered the church to an opportunity to choose a more liberal leader. “Or at least, I really hope that’s the case,” he said.

But despite being one of the least-loved Pope’s since Cesare Borgia, the great and the good lined up to pay their respects to the 85-year-old Pontiff.

Italy’s head of state President Giorgio Napolitano said: “The Pope has shown great, courage, generosity and in my opinion great respect with this gesture.” He added that the papacy was an “extraordinarily challenging weight to carry on one’s shoulders”.

Outgoing premier Mario Monti told journalists in Milan: “I was very moved by this news.” He said he had had no idea the Pope’s resignation was on the cards.

There were also respectful comments from his political and social opponents, including Giuliano Pisapia, the left-wing mayor of Milan, the city whose archbishop Angelo Scola has already emerged as the favourite to succeed Benedict next month.

Mr Pisapia angered senior church figures last year by announcing token civil partnerships for gay couples in Milan, in defiance of the Vatican's stance on same-sex relationships, was as usual graceful in his choice of words. “The decision of Pope Benedict to leave the Papacy in a few weeks has touched me. We must have maximum respect for his choice.”

Ezio Mauro, editor of big centre-left daily newspaper La Repubblica, said Benedict’s resignation was evidence that “modernity was breaking out in the corridors of the Vatican”.

The theme of deliberate change was adopted by the Pope’s more natural supporters, including Pierferdinando Casini, head of the strongly pious Union of Christian Democrats. “We are close to the Pope who has demonstrated with this gesture an authentic revolution,” he said.

Other catholic politicians joined the chorus saying that Pope Benedict would be remembered fondly, despite resigning. And there is a historical precedent. The hairshirt-wearing Celestine V, the last Pope to quit the job, some 600 years ago, was thought by some to have been depicted by Dante’s Divine Comedy as a soul sent to hell for his cowardice.

But shortly after in 1313, Celestine was declared a saint by his predecessor Pope Clement V. Filippo the taxi driver would have approved.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little