Pope Benedict XVI resigns: Catholics in D.C. eager for future

Pope Benedict XVI greeted cardinals and followers in the Vatican before leaving for good. Photo: CNN

Thursday's official resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is making an emotional impact around the world, and as the pope left the Vatican, his departure carries deep meaning for parishioners in the Washington area.

At the same hour when Pope Benedict officially retires in Rome, the banner of him hanging out side the Basilica of the National Shrine in Northeast Washington will be taken down. Later Thursday, the Basilica will hold a special mass at 5 p.m. and a choral concert at 8 p.m.

It's the emotional end of an era for the Catholic church and his followers, including Monsignor Walter Rossi. He visited with the Pope on his last visit to the District in 2008.

"I think there is still an element of surprise and shock, but as the days go on, it's something we become accustomed to and used to," Rossi said. "It's a very unique moment for all of us."

Meanwhile, many followers, including Catholic University graduate student Ryan Vilbig, say that he respects Pope Benedict for putting the church before himself.

"As I've reflected on it, I think there is going to be a great good that comes from this," Vilbig said.

The next thing to watch for Catholics worldwide will be the Papal conclave, during which cardinals from around the world will elect the new leader of the church. However, a new Pew Research Center survey says American Catholics are conflicted over what they want from the new pope.

Some want to generally preserve tradition, while others say they wouldn't mind seeing changes. Ultimately, the decision will be left to the 115 cardinals to choose a new holy father.

"They are going to find someone who is going to be the right person, at the right time for this time in the church," Rossi said.