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Pontiff ’s decision to resign stuns many of faithful

The faithful — about 10 strong — trudged through snowy streets early Monday to attend Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. They came knowing that the global leader of their church, Pope Benedict XVI, had announced he was stepping down.

“I trust his judgment, that it’s the sensible and right thing to do,” 73-year-old George Crombie said. “The big issue is what kind of replacement are we going to get. It could be anybody. It’s worrisome because it’s important to get the right cardinal to lead the church. This caught me completely by shock.”

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“I do think he made the right decision,” Crombie said. “I’m 100 percent behind him, but there are a lot of Catholics that aren’t. I think it’s like in the United States, with the red and blue states. It’s like that in the church with the conservatives and liberals.”

Guido Perez, a 30-year-old who lives in Miami but attends college in Boston, grew up in Colombia, a stronghold of ­Catholicism, with about 90 percent of the population identifying themselves as Catholics.

“Definitely this is shocking to the world, but our faith comes from above,” he said, holding an umbrella over his head as a light rain fell. “He did the best he could during this time. . . . We are all humans, we do feel when we are capable of doing something or not. He and God are the only ones who know exactly what is going on, but at least he is being honest. Let’s remember that God has a plan, and things always happen for a reason.”

Karl Kazaka, of the South End, said the 85-year-old pope made a wise decision in stepping down.

“The pope felt he can’t handle his job anymore, and I agree with him on his decision,” said Kazaka, 71. “He admits he can’t handle it anymore, and I think he is 100 percent right, and I think he is doing the right thing, to open it for somebody who can do a better job.”

In Medford, parishioners said they were shocked by the news, but understood the pope’s decision.

The Rev. Ed Doughty said a brief prayer for the pope during morning Mass in the basement of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Medford.

Elaine Mastrocola of ­Medford heard the news before coming to St. Francis, her church for more than 50 years.

“It’s just not done,” she said. “It took a lot of courage. I guess he realized he couldn’t be up to the job. More power to him for deciding to retire.”

Parishioner Eleanor Wright said she respected the pope’s decision.

“We were surprised,” she said. “It took a lot of courage.”

Doughty said he learned of the news early Monday morning when he received a text message from a fellow priest.

“I imagine he had immense pressure to stay,” he said. “He had enough courage to overcome that pressure, and he had enough self-knowledge to know he wasn’t up to the job. I think that’s admirable.”

Doughty said he will be watching closely during the coming weeks as cardinals select the successor to Pope ­Benedict.

“We’re seeing something take place that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years,” he said. “From a history-watching standpoint, it will be so interesting and kind of exciting to watch.”

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.
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