His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI announced he’s resigning (stepping down from his job) on February 28th. That’s huge news to people around the world for a few reasons.
First, the Pope is the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, which has 1.2 billion members around the world. Out of 7 billion people on the planet, that makes the Pope one of the most influential people in the world.
Being a pope is a lot like being a president or world leader but one key difference is that as pope, you’re also expected to be extraordinarily holy, according to author John Allen, Jr., an expert on popes. He writes that it’s basically one of the hardest jobs and likens it to a life sentence.
Mr. Allen compares it to that because in addition to it being a hard job, popes usually hold the job until they die. That’s the other reason why Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is such big news. This is the first time a pope has resigned in 600 years (in the year 1415, that’s the Middle Ages). So, it’s pretty unprecedented (hasn’t been done much before).
Why’s Pope Benedict XVI resigning?
At 85 years old he says his health is failing to the point he doesn’t believe he can do his job properly anymore.
He’s been the Pope since 2005 — for 8 years. That’s not all that long, actually, considering the last pope, Pope John Paul II, was pope for over 25 years. But it’s a demanding job, and Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership has been controversial. In addition to that it’s also difficult to balance religious beliefs rooted deep in history … with changing times. He is the first pope with a Twitter account, though!
The Pope’s real name is Joseph Ratzinger. He was born in Germany and entered the seminary at age 12, according to reports. A seminary is a school that trains you to be a priest. You can read Pope Benedict XVI’s full biography on his official website by clicking here.
News reports say that a new pope will most likely be elected by Easter — one of the most important Catholic holidays.
Electing a pope is actually a fascinating process. It’s called a papal conclave and it’s unlike any other election. Cardinals, highly ranked appointed church officials (you might have seen them wearing all red), basically shut themselves in together at the world-famous Sistine Chapel until at least 2/3 of them agree on which of them will be the new pope. This can take days and it’s one of the most secret events in the world.
Thousands of Catholics, as well as members of the media and other onlookers, wait outside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican waiting to find out who the new pope will be. Vatican City is technically the smallest country in the world where the pope governs the Roman Catholic Church from. It’s surrounded by the city of Rome, in Italy.
How’s it announced? Press conference? Facebook? Twitter? Nope. Smoke signal! The cardinals burn the ballots after each round of voting. If they send out black smoke, that’s their signal that no new pope has been elected. If the smoke is white, there’s a new pope! Official announcements are made at that point as well as a ceremony that’s televised worldwide. So, we’ll see. And in the meantime there will be a lot speculation!
If you’re interested in learning more about Pope Benedict XVI, USA Today has a really good graphic timeline with photos. You can click here to see that.