Millions of Catholics around the world were stunned by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down at the end of this month, as he no longer feels physically or mentally strong enough to carry out the ministry appointed to him. Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, was elected in 2005 to succeed Pope John Paul II and is the first Pope to resign since 1415.
The Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo, Tarcisio Bertone, will lead the Roman Catholic Church until a new Pope is elected; the conclave of cardinals that will choose the successor is expected to convene in mid-March and make a decision before Easter.
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, president of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, who was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI last November; is the only Colombian prelate who will be part of the conclave to select the next Pope. The 70-year old prelate is both eligible to vote for the next Pope and to be a candidate himself while Darío Castrillón, the other Colombian cardinal in the Vatican, is eligible to succeed the Pope but cannot participate in the conclave because he is over 80 years old.