Nigerians of different religious leanings have been reacting to the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign from office from February 28.
The 85-year-old Pope made the announcement in Latin during a Vatican Cardinals meeting in Rome. He is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years after Pope Gregory the 12th in 1415.
Later, a Vatican statement explained that the Pontiff would be unable to continue in office due to his age and diminishing strength, adding that the Papacy would remain vacant until a successor is elected.
The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, allayed fears that the decision would lead to crisis in the Catholic Church, urging all Catholic faithfuls in Nigeria and around the world to pray for the Pope and the Church.
"There is no panic or crisis in the Church, because of the Pope's decision to resign by February, 28," Mr. Onaiyekan, a Cardinal, said. "A successor will be announced soon. His resignation is in line with the Canons and Laws of the Roman Catholic Church."
The news of the Pope's impending resignation also attracted reactions from the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Emmanuel Chukwuma, who praised the courage of the Pope to step down, saying the Vatican should set an age-limit of retirement for Popes to avoid "constraints associated with old age and failing health."
"As Anglican bishops, we retire at the age of 70 or 65 voluntarily. But, Roman
Catholic Bishops retire at 75. I therefore strongly feel that in this circumstance to avoid further constrains for the Papacy, the Pope should retire at the age of 80, if Catholic bishops retire at the age of 75," he said.
According to Anglican cleric, anything more than 80 years for the Pope becomes a strenuous exercise, considering the enormity of the tasks associated with the office, adding that the Catholic Church should not elect Cardinals who are above 70 years as Pope.
He also poured encomiums on the outgoing Pope for his dedication to promoting Ecumenical relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church during his papacy, saying this has made it possible for followers of both faiths to relate well through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, ARCIC.
The Catholic Archbishop of Ibadan Diocese, Felix Alaba Job, who is also the President, Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, said although it is "very sad" news, the decision by the Pope to step aside was a reality the church must contend with.
The Director of Social Communication, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Gabriel Osu, said it was the Pope's right to resign on health ground and advanced age, pointing out that his reasons were very glaring.
Catholic faithfuls in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, received the news of the Pope's retirement as a surprise, though with deep lessons for those in leadership positions.
For the Laity Chairman, Holy Cross Catholic Church, Gwarinpa, Godwin Iluobe, the reason for the decision to resign must have been a serious one, since it has taken a long time since it last happened.
"I feel he should not have resigned. He should have managed, like Pope John Paul II who continued till his last day," Mr. Iluobe said.
Oke Onyejiuwa of the Catholic Men Organisation in Abuja, said there was nothing wrong with the decision by the Pope to resign, adding that since he is aged, the work of God has to continue.
"If you look around in Nigeria, how many people of his age (85 years) still move around and handle challenging situations like that of the Church. I thank God for his life. He should take a deserved rest. I pray for a good successor," Mr. Onyejiuwa said
A Knight of St Mulumba, Emeka Okonkwo, said that the Pope's resignation came as "a great shock" to him, arguing that like his predecessor, who was also very old, he should have managed till the last moment.
"This is also a great lesson for Nigerian leaders who are sick and still want to
hold on tight to the office," Mr. Okonkwo said. "They should borrow a leaf from the Pope."