POPE Benedict XVI’s resignation earlier this week has taken the region’s Catholics by surprise.
The 85-year-old leader of the Catholic church said in his announcement on Monday that his “strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited”.
In Galashiels, Father Basil Clark said: “Locally Catholics are surprised because it’s not something in our experience.
“The current pope was considered a traditionalist so for him to break with 600 years of tradition could be considered brave. My view is he’s a pope who has done his own thing and done things in his own way’ and had the strength of character to say ‘I’m too old to carry on what is a complex job’.”
Father Robert Afayori, who came to Selkirk from Ghana three years ago, said: “The reaction is surprise and shock: history tells us popes don’t resign. He’s such a good man, his decision would have been made with good intention.”
Joe Walsh, the Catholic church representative on Scottish Borders Council’s education committee, described the decision as “very brave”.
The piano-playing professor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected in April 2005 and relinquishes the papacy at the end of this month. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Mr Walsh was at the Catholic church’s teacher training and conference venue, the Gillis Centre, in Edinburgh just a day after the revelation.
He said: “There was relief to a certain extent because he is getting very frail and it’s probably a good thing for him, but surprise too because of the tradition going back 600 years.
“His health is really a big factor here. I think his decision was taken very privately with a handful of his advisors. It’s taken everybody by surprise.
“He didn’t have the warmth that the previous pope did, he’s a very intelligent man, a professorial type of man. I think he is making a very brave decision.”
Looking back over the last eight years at the pontiff’s legacy, Father Afayori described the decision to return to having the liturgy in Latin as “a step in the right direction”.
“But the pope was also open to contemporary developments. He was more open to people (than people thought he would be), he wanted to listen and engage people and understand where they were coming from.
“That and his openness to Islam and other oriental religions are some of the big things he really brought to the church.”