When John Songco of Fircrest saw the news alert on his cellphone about Pope Benedict XVI resigning, he thought: This is something. This is really big.
Songco and other Tacoma-area Catholics reacted with shock, surprise and concern Monday to the popes announcement that he will step down Feb. 28. They didnt see this coming.
Songco said hed prefer the 85-year-old pope remain in his position to provide continuity, even if he is ill.
Benedicts predecessor, Pope John Paul II, continued serving despite what illness he had, said Songco, 33, who was holding his 5-month-old daughter after morning Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Tacomas largest Catholic parish.
Pierce Countys Catholic population numbers 69,558, making it the largest religious group in the county, according to last years U.S. Religion Census.
Parishioners at St. Charles reacted to the unexpected news with concern for Benedict.
Paul Frohlich said he wants whatevers best for the pope.
I wouldnt want him overtaxed, said Frohlich, 70, of Tacoma. Im sure he prayed about this decision and chose the right thing to do not only for himself but also for our church.
Still, Frohlich said, I wasnt expecting it.
Neither was Maryann Kalapus, of University Place. She said she was shocked by the news.
I just heard it on the radio, Kalapus said after Mass. I hope hes not ill.
Rich Rewolinski noted its not the first time a pope has stepped down, although Benedict is the first to do so in 600 years.
Im not totally stunned like some people, said Rewolinski, 72, of University Place.
Rewolinski said its his impression that the aging pope may have some condition that hinders his ability to do his job. Resigning under those conditions is doing the right thing, Rewolinski said.
At St. Leo Catholic Church on Tacomas Hilltop, lay presider Mara Eaton urged people to pray for the pope and the church, and that the Holy Spirit would guide the cardinals in their selection of a new pope.
We pray for the church that God will guide and protect us, said Eaton, 40, during a prayer time.
After the noon-hour communion service, Eaton said she hopes for a more ecumenically minded pope and for one from outside Europe to represent the global nature of the Catholic Church.
In a statement Monday, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, spiritual leader for about 600,000 practicing Catholics in Western Washington, said he reacted to the news with strongly mixed feelings like many Catholics.
His decision is clearly a very personal, spiritual one, and it expresses his unfailing care and concern for the church he has served tirelessly throughout his life, Sartain said.
Having had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions, I have always been struck by his humility and kindness, Sartain said.
He said the popes announcement Monday, like all of his decisions, was made prayerfully and for the benefit of the church and all people of faith.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647