Crystal Sewell knows what she wants to see in the next pope: a combination of the last two.
"I'm a conservative soul," the 29-year-old Reservoir Hill woman said Monday after the midday Mass at St. Alphonsus Church in downtown Baltimore. "I feel like John Paul II had this particular zeal for youth and that brought the youth closer to the Church. Benedict took over with instilling older traditions into today's youth, which brings a whole new focus on what it means to be Catholic today."
Archbishop William E. Lori said the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, to be chosen next month by the College of Cardinals, must be "a faithful and loving teacher" with a "pastor's heart" who is "capable of embracing 1 billion people from every culture and every language on Earth."
The pope surprised Catholics around the world Monday when he told a meeting of cardinals that he lacked the "strength of mind and body" to continue leading the church and would step down at the end of the month after nearly eight years. The former Joseph Ratzinger became the first pope since the 13th century to abdicate voluntarily.
The 85-year-old pontiff is expected to retire to a life of prayer, study and writing.
The faithful hailed the announcement as a reflection of his humility.
"The news, while sad, is yet another example of the pope's selflessness and humility, and presents an opportunity for the Church and the entire world to look with gratitude on his remarkable papacy," said Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, the former archbishop of Baltimore.
In a statement from Rome, O'Brien described Pope Benedict as a "staunch defender of human rights and those religiously persecuted" and a "champion for the dignity of all people" who has "offered a much-needed voice for morality and good in a world where both are far too scarce."
O'Brien, elevated to cardinal last year by the pontiff, will participate in the conclave next month to choose his successor. Pope Benedict himself will be too old to vote — the cutoff is age 80. But because all 118 cardinals who can vote were installed by either Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul II, the next pope is expected to lead the church in a similarly conservative direction.
"In terms of substance, we're not going to see a major change," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "We will see a dramatic change in personality and style."
One possible change: The cardinals will weigh whether to elect the first pope from the developing world, where the church is growing most rapidly. Several "papabili" — possible popes — including Cardinals Joao Braz de Aviz and Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil, Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, Luis Tagle of the Philippines and Peter Turkson of Ghana are considered candidates.
Former state Sen. Michael Collins said the idea was exciting.
"Will this be the time the Church leaders decide to select a non-European pope?" Collins asked at St. Alphonsus. "I happen to believe, at least in America, our Hispanic brothers and sisters are really the future of our Church, because that's the population that's growing."
The Rev. James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, said such a choice would be a "sign that the center of gravity has shifted."
Pope Benedict had spoken of stepping down if he felt incapable of serving. But the announcement Monday still caught Catholics by surprise.
Friends Constantia Jones, 80, of Woodlawn and Evelyn Chittams, 81, of Baltimore's Poppleton neighborhood, said the pope was right to recognize his physical limitations.
While the women said they'd like the next pontiff to be younger and more capable of traveling — Pope Benedict's physician reportedly had advised him not to cross the Atlantic again, as he did for his 2008 visit to Washington, New York and Boston — they were grateful for the pope's service.
Christopher Ruddy, a theologian at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said the pontiff's decision was characteristic of his personality.
"It seemed he knew he was called to this ministry of being pope but had a sense that he is not utterly indispensable," Ruddy said.
Ruddy said the resignation can serve as a reminder that the ultimate leader of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ.