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The world reacts to the pope's shocking announcement.
Juan Ignacio Gonzalez, archbishop of the diocese covering the Chilean capital Santiago, said Benedict had been full of surprises over the course of his eight-year tenure.
“For me, personally, this is not such a surprise, because he is the pope who has given me the most surprises, for example, confronting the issue of pedophilia, travelling [so much] at his age, pardoning those who have gravely offended him,” the archbishop told Chilean paper La Tercera.
Baltazar Porras, archbishop of the Venezuelan diocese of Merida, said Benedict would be remembered for bowing out gracefully.
“The most common temptation that we face as human beings is to see how we can continue indefinitely in power,” Porras told Venezuelan paper El Universal.
Speculation about Benedict’s successor was not long in coming.
Mexico City mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa, tweeted: “Without a doubt the resignation of Benedict XVI is surprising and respectable. In March, the [new] pope will be chosen. They say his successor could be Latin American.”
That view is likely to win wide backing in the region. There has never been a non-European pope. But, in general terms, Catholics in Latin America are known for being particularly devout.
Latin America’s two leading candidates for the papacy are thought to be the Brazilian Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the vast diocese of Sao Paulo, and Leonardo Sandri, an Argentine cardinal who heads the Vatican’s department for “Oriental Churches.”
Claude Scrima, the parochial vicar at the St. Leonard’s Church in Boston’s traditionally Italian and Catholic North End neighborhood.
“I hope that it’s someone from South or Central America,” Scrima said. “It’s my humble opinion, but there’s a whole segment of the Catholic world that we don’t even pay attention to.”
Sandra Chumpitz, a 42-year-old street vendor from Lima, Peru, said she thought the pope did the right thing by resigning. "The other one [John Paul II] should have done the same. He was virtually dying on the job for years," she said.
Taxi driver Jose Garcia, 49, also from Lima, said he thought the next pope should be Latin American.
"There has never been one from here but there are so many Catholics here," Garcia said. "And he needs to find a way to stop losing Catholics to the evangelicals. The new pope has to find a way to make the Church more relevant for ordinary people."
Others wonder if the next pope will come from Africa. At least two Africans are believed to be contenders: Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.
Father Benedict Mahlangu, parish priest of Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, said he thought it was possible an African could be elected pontiff.
"I don't know why they elect someone who is nearly 80," he added. "They should take someone younger, maybe 60."
Pamela Owuor, a Kenyan domestic worker, said she heard about the pope's retirement on the radio. She found it "surprising" and reckoned that "he did a good job."
"It shows a big heart to admit you are tired, you are not able," she said. "Our president can't do that!"
Indeed, for many in Africa, news of the pope's resignation evoked reflections on the political reality at home.
The gist: If the pope's resigning, why can't Mugabe?
"AND WHEN WILL THE 'POLITICAL DINASORS' IN KENYA RETIRE??????????????? [sic]" a reader commented on the website of The Standard newspaper in Kenya.
"Wow! What about good old Uncle Bob down in Zimbabwe?" wrote a Daily Nation reader, also in Kenya.
"President Mugabe should emulate the pope and Mandela and resign as advanced age is a problem to the body though the spirit may be willing," echoed another.
At 88, Mugabe has three years on the Pontiff but is far from the only pensioner in power in Africa. Kenya's outgoing president Mwai Kibaki is 81 and there are host of premieres in their 70s including South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Angola's Jose Eduardo dos Santos and, arguably since his real age is a matter of contention, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni.
On Twitter, with "Pope" trending in South Africa, talk of a potential black pontiff was a hot topic.
"I hope the next Pope will be a black person for a change," tweeted Nobenguni Mzamo (@nguniem1) from Queenstown in South Africa's Eastern Cape.
But this drew pessimistic responses: "That won't happen," replied Lethu Kwedana (@Beekay_iv). "Ever," added Lance Zion Mosiea (@HeirOfZion).
"Again, talk of a black #Pope, give it up people, not in the Roman #Catholic Church," wrote @SKKhumalo.
John Nzomo, handyman and lifelong Catholic living in Kenya said he thought the pope's old age and poor health was a problem. "I think he should go and rest," Nzomo said, adding that as a leader of the church the pope had been "perfect."
Asked whether, perhaps, it was time that an African was made Pope he laughed and shook his head. "The job is too big, they can't give it to an African, it is always whites, not Africans."
Of course there were the jokesters.
"Will he now be known as Ex Benedict?" one South African netizen quipped.
And like many jokes, often there was a kernel of truth.
Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist whose controversial book "The God Delusion" has riled religious groups, offered the departing pontiff some derision via Twitter.
"I feel sorry for the Pope and all old Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex," he wrote.