Religious leaders are honoring Pope Benedict XVI for his emphasis on making service a cornerstone of one's life.
Benedict, who announced Monday that he is resigning Feb. 28, has long called on Catholic charity organizations to go beyond routine service acts and to truly exemplify the meaning of giving.
“Charity must express a genuine love for people, a love animated by a personal encounter with Christ," the 85-year-old pope said in an apostolic letter he released in December, Catholic News Agency reported. He went on to push Catholic charities to avoid being “just another form of organized social assistance," and called on bishops to more closely monitor local charities to ensure efforts align with Catholic teachings.
His strongly worded letter gave clear direction on how to achieve this:
“In carrying out charitable works the Catholic organizations shouldn't limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds, but should also show special concern for individuals in need,” he continued.
The pope's message for Lent conveyed a similar idea, stating that faith is strengthened by charitable acts. The message, titled, "Believing in charity calls forth charity," was released Feb. 1.
Leaders in the religious community say the pope's departure is a humble act that symbolizes his personal dedication to living a life of giving.
A number of local religious leaders have spoken out about his dedication to keeping charity in the spotlight. Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis Schnurr said his work will be remembered as "unselfish."
“Charity became the central theme of his papacy, touching upon the world of interpersonal, socio-political, and economic relations.” Schnurr told Dayton Daily News.
Benedict also became known for his veneration for the environment and all of creation, being dubbed the "Green Pope."
He cited health concerns as the reason for retiring. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415, the Associated Press reported.
Possible successors include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops, according to the AP.