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02172013-1The Pope is important to Catholics; however, last week, he was the talk of people worldwide, despite their religious preferences. The Pope is responsible for ensuring that all decisions made by the Catholic Church adhere to the mission, doctrine, and morals of the Church. He is not worshipped, but he is certainly revered and respected. As head of the Catholic Church, the Pope leads a hierarchy of bishops, and priests. Most men who become Pope spend the rest of their days serving God in that capacity, and a new Pope is elected upon his death.

02172013-6 When Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement this past Monday, February 11, his plans were met with universal surprise. It is not unheard of for a Pope to resign but it is certainly uncommon. Pope Benedict XVI is the first Pope in 600 years to resign.

02172013-7St. Peter first served as Pope from 32 through 67. Since then, 264 other men have served as Pope. During that time, much has changed in the world. And, yet, the Church remains. Few countries or institutions can claim such enduring influence. With approximately 1 billion Catholics worldwide, the Pope’s influence is significant. This week, travel to the Vatican City in Rome and discover more about Pope Benedict XVI and the process for electing a new Pope.

Joseph Ratzinger

02172013-8What kind of person becomes Pope? As the one and only Pope, it is a job unlike any other. Read Pope Benedict XVI’s biography on Biography.com and watch the video of the day he was elected Pope. Then, visit the Associated Press interactives to view a timeline of the Pope’s life (page 1). Consider Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy (page 2). Discover the highlights of his papacy with the USAToday, and scroll down to watch him announce his resignation. 

Pope Benedict’s term as Pope was not without challenges, including an inherited abuse scandal, an anonymous informant who leaked his private letters, and a sensational peech that Muslims found insulting. On September 12, 2006, the Pope delivered a speech at the University of Regensburg that included a critical statement about Islam. In response, Muslims protested. Watch a video about his most controversial speech.

Who Will Serve Next?

02172013-3You may be wondering: Who selects the next Pope? How is it decided? And, when will the decision be made? Selecting a Pope is a decision steeped in ritual. "’A religion relies on its customs and practices,’ said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, former dean of theology at Catholic University of America and professor of liturgy. ‘…[Selecting a new Pope] is an act of God.’" Familiarize yourself with the customs and practices the Catholic Church follows to select a new Pope. Begin with the AP graphic (page 3) that illustrates the process.  Then, for a more detailed explanation, read the BBC article, Conclave: How cardinals elect a Pope. Return to pages 4 and 5 on the AP site and consider: how might where Catholics live worldwide, and the homelands of the Cardinals who vote for the next Pope influence who becomes Pope? According to the current rules, Cardinals may begin meeting to select a new Pope in March. Yet, Pope Benedict’s resignation is effective February 28th. Read the USAToday article, Vatican raises possibility of early March conclave, to glean why those rules were instituted and how this situation differs.  

02172013-5Of course the biggest question is: Who will be the next Pope? The vast majority of the Popes who have served during the last three centuries have been Italian. However, that changed with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. What factors do you think the Cardinals will consider when casting a vote? The Wall Street Journal article, Contenders in Line to Be Pope, tackles that question. Several names have been bantered about as Pope-worthy. Meet several of them. Which would have your vote and why?

The next Pope will pick up the pastoral staff sometime in the next month. It will then fall to him to guide his flock amid the challenges of the twenti-first century. Read what the Guardian considers the next Pope's five key issues.