Pope should have carried on, faithful tell Vatican

Shock, sympathy, mild indignation and even a degree of relief were among the emotions expressed as Roman Catholics around the world digested news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday.

If there was one common theme that united the faithful, it was the idea that the papacy is a job for life, not one that can be given up on the grounds of ill health, frailty or old age.

"I am surprised because I did not know the pope could resign. I thought he was pope until he died," said Spanish businessman Gabriel Gar, 46, expressing a sentiment that was echoed across the globe.

"I always thought retirement for the pope was like divorce -- you don't do it," said Hugh Stafford Northcote, the retired head of St Bede's preparatory school in Staffordshire, England. "You go on until you've dropped."

Victor Seguei, the registrar at Abidjan cathedral in the Ivory Coast, added: "He is the head of the church, he ought to lead his people right to the end and not resign. But maybe he has reasons that we don't know about."

Although there were plenty of believers willing to praise the 85-year-old German pontiff, it was clear that he did not enjoy the unquestioning devotion accorded to his predecessor Pope John Paul II, and many suggested he had been an unwise choice as successor to the globe-trotting Pole.

"A person of his age should not have been chosen" to be pope, said Julio Ferreiro, 65, a pensioner from Galicia in northern Spain.

"The church needs a progressive pope, like Pope John 23 (1958-63), who sees how life is nowadays, how society is, and who makes progress."

Argentinian lawyer Alejandro Bottini, 43, said he was not a fan of Benedict's conservative theology.

"I have a fairly poor opinion of this pope. Society and the world are going in one direction and the church has not followed."

Benedict has decided to retire because of his frailty and advanced age, leading some to speculate his health could be even worse than indicated.

Amparo Espi, 38, an office worker in Valencia, Spain, said she suspected the pope was resigning due to "some serious illness that they don't want to talk about yet".

Similar speculation was going on in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

"We don't know the real reason why the pope resigned but probably the Vatican does," said Khader Hadweh, 21.

Back in Abidjan, another Ivorian, primary school teacher Odette Tanon, said: "I'm very surprised. I have a little pain in my heart. We will have to wait and hear what the bishops and particularly the archbishop have to tell us."

At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City, news filtered through to pilgrims over the course of the day.

"I'm really surprised if he feels that he has to resign and isn't well enough to continue his mission," said Grzegorz Gauden, a tourist from Cracow in Poland. "It's a really big thing for the Catholic Church."

Even inside a church which Christians believe is built over the site of the crucifixion and resurrection there were some who were willing to make light of the pope's situation.

"It's not a bad thing -- if he's found a woman," said a tourist called Enzo. "If he really wants to start his life afresh, this is the moment."

Faadi Qattan, a 38-year-old resident of Bethlehem, the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ, said Benedict's departure could give the church a shot in the arm.

"The official reason given is that the pope feels he is too old to carry on -- maybe that is a very good reason right now and maybe the church does need new younger blood," he told AFP.

"Let's hope that the upcoming pope ... is more attached to the situation of the Palestinians in the Holy Land and that he would use the diplomatic weight of the Vatican to put pressure to end the occupation in Palestinian lands."