Brazil bishops hail "humility" of resigning Pope

Brazilian Catholic bishops on Monday hailed the "humility and greatness" of Pope Benedict XVI on learning of his imminent resignation due to old age.

"We greet with filial love the reasons given by his holiness, sign of the humility and greatness which characterized the eight years of his pontificate," they said in a statement.

The German-born leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics announced earlier Monday that he would resign on February 28 due to old age, after just eight years as pope, one of the shortest pontificates in modern history.

Brazil has an estimated 125 million Catholics, and is the most populous mostly Roman Catholic country in the world.

In July, some two million young people from around the world are expected to attend the Catholic World Youth Day festival hosted by the archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro.

Traditionally the pope attends the event -- and the July 23-28 festival will take place as scheduled despite Monday's papal announcement.

"WYD will be maintained. The resignation of the pope changes nothing," Adionel da Cunha, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.

Rio Archbishop Orani Tempesta said that he expects Benedict's successor to attend.

"We do not anticipate an absence of the pope. It's a tradition to have the pope," the G1 news website quoted him as saying.

It will be the second time that the youth festival is held in Latin America, after Buenos Aires in 1987.

Darci Nicioli, the auxiliary bishop of the Sao Paulo pilgrimage city of Aparecida, said the papal decision was in line with canon law.

"We accept it with pain," he added.

Brazilian theologian Leonard Boff, a left-leaning ex-priest who studied under Benedict, struck a discordant note, saying he hopes the next Pope will be more open to dialogue with Catholics than the outgoing, fiercely conservative pontiff.

"We hope that the next pope will create an atmosphere that is more open, that Christians can engage in dialogue with modern culture without all the suspicions that the current pope raised and made," Boff said.

But Boff praised the Pope for stepping down for the reasons he has stated, saying Benedict is a pragmatist who sees the papacy as a job, a function, and of one cannot do it anymore it is time to go.

"I praise him for that," Boff said.

Aparecida is home to Our Lady of Aparecida, a venerated clay statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the main patroness of Brazil.

Nicioli said several Brazilian cardinals could become the next pope.

They include Raymundo Damasceno, the current Aparecida archbishop and president of the National Conference of Brazilian bishops; Claudio Hummes and Odilo Scherer, the German-Brazilian archbishop of Sao Paulo who is said to be close to Benedict.