February 11, 2013 will forever live in history as the day Pope Benedict XVI announced that at the end of the month he would abdicate the Chair of St. Peter, the first pope in over 600 years to do so. Like countless other Catholics, I was surprised and dismayed to learn of it this morning; Benedict XVI has been an awesome pope, and I will be sorry to see him leave. He has done much for the good of the Church.
Supposedly the conclave will begin shortly after Benedict’s abdication on February 28, and if all goes well, we should have a new pope by Easter–hopefully well before then. But no one is sure what this new pope will be like or how much of Benedict’s reign he will keep; a few people are already beginning to wonder what will happen to the Year of Faith now that Benedict will not be presiding over it. Change is coming quickly, and we must pray very hard for the Holy Ghost to guide the cardinals in the arduous process of electing yet another successor to St. Peter. We should also pray for Benedict XVI; it took great courage to do what he did.
Update (2/12/13): According to Church Law, the earliest the conclave can convene is three weeks after the death (or, in this case, abdication) of the previous Pope, which means the cardinals can’t meet until March 15. However, the initial goal was to have a new pontiff elected and installed by Palm Sunday, which falls on March 24 this year. So the cardinals are only going to have nine days to decide who among them will succeed Benedict XVI. This should be nothing short of interesting.