pope-benedictTHE VATICAN (BNc) — For the first time in 600 years, a pope is resigning. Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic Church, announced earlier today that he would resign his post Feb. 28., due to advanced age and increasing physical and mental weakness. His full declaration follows:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

The question for the church that follows the model of the New Testament is, what effect, if any, will his resignation and the choice of a new Catholic leader have for our work?

Though the papacy is part of a tightly controlled system, new popes are able to set directions and establish emphases within the scope of their particular interests and experiences. While it is doubtful that any of Catholicism’s basic doctrines will change, a new pope will focus the attentions of his adherents in new ways.  It will be important, therefore, to be aware of these and address them with biblical and practical teachings.

As with the recent choices of popes, chatter already has begun about the possibility of Benedict’s successor coming from outside of Europe. Africa and Latin America are two areas often cited. If a pope is chosen from a country on another continent, with perhaps a black pope, such a choice might re-energize the Catholic religion in that area.

One of the names cited is São Paulo Archbishop Odilo Pedro Scherer, a Brazilian with German background. Brazil contains the largest number of Catholics, even after major losses in recent years. Scherer’s nomination could well give greater impetus to the Catholic “re-evangelization” of the country and staunch the losses to the evangelical and Pentecostal denominations. Such a scenario could present more challenges to the work of the New Testament church.

World attention to the change of the head of the Roman Catholic Church also provides an opportunity to teach about the only head of the church, Jesus Christ. Christians have a chance to demonstrate both in teaching and by example the equality of all saints before God. During the selection process for pope, this difference from what the Bible teaches becomes again a stark contrast.

While the resignation of Benedict XVI and the choice of a new pope will not change what the church of God teaches, it may present some special challenges, at least in some areas, and certainly does provide opportunity to emphasize the true doctrine of the church.