South Jersey Catholics who learned of the news Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will resign expressed surprise and admiration for the decision.

Many still have questions about the sudden announcement that Benedict will resign effective Feb. 28.

At Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Linwood, those who came to the church to pray Monday night agreed the pope’s actions were those of humility, honor and dedication to the Catholic Church.

Rafael Carvakal, of Mays Landing, said the pope was placing the importance of the church above himself.

“The church is more than him,” he said. “It’s about God.”

Jennifer Lee said as leader of the church the pope is a very important position that Catholics around the world look up to.

“I was very proud of him for making this decision,” the Somers Point resident said. “There is honor in him deciding with his health he should say let someone else do this.”

In the Diocese of Camden, the announcement comes as its own bishop also has resigned for health reasons.

The new bishop, Dennis Sullivan, who was selected by the pope, will officially take his place as leader of the diocese today. Sullivan commended his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Galante on recognizing his physical limitations, and was grateful for him taking the step to resign, said diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd.

Regarding the pope, Sullivan called Benedict XVI’s intellectual vigor and said his books on Jesus have been a great contribution to the church, Feuerherd said.

In the Trenton Diocese, Bishop David O’Connell expressed respect for the pope’s decision.

“In a world where power and influence are sought after and held tightly, this passing of the papal crozier speaks volumes about Pope Benedict XVI’s humility and desire that the Catholic Church be led effectively and well,” O’Connell said.

While the decision is a surprise to most, the pope’s actions are also courageous, said pastor Michael Fieldcq, of Notre Dame De La Mer in Wildwood.

A conversation about the pope resigning came up during John Paul II’s papacy, when he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Field said maybe Benedict is charting the territory for future popes. The last time a pope resigned was in 1415.

“He is 85 and tired,” Field said of Benedict, “and maybe he thinks that what is needed is a good, strong and energetic new pope.”

Joe Polizzicq, of Brigantine, who was at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City on Monday, said he is waiting to hear more, about the resignation.

“I don’t know what to think,” he said. But Polizzi said the pope has been a great teacher and theologian.

Also attending a service at St. Nicholas was Dorothy Nicoletti, of West Orange. She said she hopes Benedict’s successor is as pure and angelic of a person as he is.

"I'm aware of how weak he is and if he can't give his all then he should resign," Nicoletti said.

At Our Lady of Sorrows, Northfield resident Steven Nolan said the pope was very close to his predecessor and was with John Paul II when his health deteriorated. He said he believes seeing John Paul’s health decline contributed to Pope Benedict’s decision to step down now.

“I know that contributed to some degree to his decision,” Nolan said. “It was appropriate, good for the church and very altruistic. How many people in that position would step down? I admire him greatly for that.”

Staff Writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.

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