RIO DE JANEIRO — From the parishes of Poland to the churches of Chile, Roman Catholics around the world were stunned Monday at the first papal resignation in six centuries, even as many prayed for a new charismatic pontiff who could lead the church into a new era.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto echoed the sentiments of many of the faithful Monday when he said, "It was quite a shock. I was like, 'The pope has resigned?' "
"We received the news with great regret and much surprise," said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who was discussed as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II when he died in 2005. "This is something completely new for the Catholic Church though it was discussed during the illness of Pope John Paul II. I didn't know Pope Benedict XVI would make this decision, but the last time I talked to him he seemed physically tired."
Alis Ramirez, an ice cream vendor headed to church in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, insisted, "He can't quit like that. This can't be."
But a few didn't consider it bad news at all.
"I don't care or feel sorry that that the pope resigned because he never entered my heart like John Paul II did," said Rosita Mejia, who sells religious icons outside La Merced church in downtown Santiago, Chile. "In fact, it's good that he leaves. He's done his job and it's time for him to rest. In five years outside this church, only one person asked me for a Benedict stamp, while hundreds asked for John Paul's stamp."
The pope's announcement that he will step aside on Feb. 28 brought reawakened calls for a more energetic successor, perhaps from Africa or Latin America. While the church has been battered by growing secularism and sex abuse scandals in the northern hemisphere, the number of believers is growing in Africa, as well as Latin America.
"Europe today is going through a period of cultural tiredness, exhaustion, which is reflected in the way Christianity is lived," said Bishop Antonio Marto of Fatima in central Portugal. "You don't see that in Africa or Latin America where there is a freshness, an enthusiasm about living the faith."
In Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, believers hope the cardinals who select Benedict's successor will pay close attention to candidates from their region.
"I think it's time to name a pope from Latin America," 65-year-old homemaker Josefa Sanchez said at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Santa Tecla, a city on the outskirts of El Salvador's capital of San Salvador. "Really, they should name one of ours, they've only named Europeans until now."
The African nation with the biggest Christian population, Nigeria, has some 20 million practicing Catholics. In Lagos, its largest city, trader Chukwuma Awaegwu put his feelings simply Monday: "If I had my way an African should be the next pope, or someone from Nigeria."
"It's true; they brought the religion to us, but we have come of age," he said. "In America, now we have a black president. So let's just feel the impact of a black pope."