Merced's Catholics were generally surprised at the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI this week and hope his successor can advance the work of the worldwide church.
Msgr. Patrick McCormick, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Merced, said he saw Benedict in a papal audience last June at the Vatican and noticed his health was declining.
"It's going to take a charismatic leader who is good at all levels of communication," McCormick said. "The church goes on whether there is death or retirement. The new pope needs to focus on the joy the Lord brings."
McCormick said Benedict typically arises at 5 a.m., conducts a 6:30 a.m. Mass and his day doesn't end until 8 p.m. "It's a long day for an 85-year-old," McCormick said. "The energy's not there."
The Rev. Isaque Meneses, St. Patrick's parochial vicar, said at first he was in disbelief when he heard about Benedict's retirement and initially thought it was a prank.
Meneses, who came to Merced last March, said he was not very happy about Benedict's announcement but conceded he knows best, and there are many things that are unknown. He said the pope has a right to his private life.
As far as Benedict's successor, Meneses said some people would like to see someone who has gone through pain who could be a good example of how Christ changes lives.
"He (the next pope) needs to be someone that imitates Christ better than others," Meneses said.
St. Patrick's Deacon Charles Reyburn said the basic reaction of local Catholics was just surprise.
"A lot of people expressed to me it took a great deal of courage to step down and it's understandable," Reyburn said. "Most people understand the basis for it. We need to continue to pray for him. We will leave (successor appointment) in the hands of the Holy Spirit; he knows what we need and will provide."
Bob Tyler of Merced, a member of St. Patrick's pastoral council, said he was not very surprised by Benedict's retirement. Tyler said he saw a recent interview with the pope where he indicated he would step down if his health got worse.
"My reaction was quite different from a lot of people. It's a measure of progressive thinking, to put church needs before his own needs," Tyler said. "I hope he has a long, healthy life. We don't worship him, but we respect and revere the office. Many people view the pope as a world leader."
Jim Rosa, another St. Patrick's pastoral council member, said he would like to see a younger person appointed pope, maybe someone in his 50s, and not quite as conservative as his predecessors. He said there are not many corporate chief executive officers who are 85 years old and still active.
Mert Beuerman, who like Rosa and Tyler is on the pastoral council, said he was surprised in the way Benedict announced his retirement rather than just continuing until his death.
Beuerman said he would like to see the new pope continue what Benedict has been doing. "I am totally confident things are going to continue and the church is going to be on the road back to holiness," he said.
McCormick said Pope Benedict is probably telling the world his health issues are severe enough that he doesn't think he will get better. He said he saw a picture taken of the pope Wednesday and he looked relieved, like a heavy weight had been taken off his shoulders.
"The people I have talked to said they would keep the Holy Father in their prayers," McCormick said. "In parishes we will continue on and wait on what is happening in Rome."
The challenges facing the new pope, McCormick said, are to continue to proclaim the Gospel. He has been the lead pastor at St. Patrick's for nine years.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.