VATICAN CITY – A lightning struck St Peter’s dome at the Vatican on Monday after Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics on February 28.
The pontiff, 85, made the announced on Monday, ignited a lot of reaction from across the globe.
He says his vast age prevented him from carrying out his duties, an unprecedented move in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
Global news agency Agence France-Presse published an image of lightning striking the basilica’s dome, which it said was taken “on the day the Pope” announced his resignation.
AFP said the striking image was captured by photographer Filippo Monteforte, who works for Italian national news and photo agency ANSA.
Monteforte’s website shows that he has photographed the Pope extensively for for more than a decade. He is also listed as a AFP photographer, with a portfolio of his work on the news agency’s website.
The German-born Pope admired as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently. He will step down on Feb. 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope had not decided to resign because of “difficulties in the papacy” and the move had been a surprise, indicating that even his inner circle was unaware that he was about to quit.
The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.
The Pope’s leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by child sexual abuse crises that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.
The pope told the cardinals that in order to govern “…both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”
He also referred to “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”
The last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months, his resignation was known as “the great refusal” and was condemned by the poet Dante in the “Divine Comedy”. Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.