The Most Rev. John Barres, Bishop of the five-county Catholic Diocese of Allentown, has issued a statement relative to yesterday's announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he will retirement at the end of February.

In the statement, the bishop said:

"Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign on Feb. 28 is a decision that he made with great serenity and deep contemplative prayer. This is an act of great courage and humility. It speaks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the person of the Pope. It is also no coincidence that he picked today, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, to announce he is stepping down due to failing health.

"The magnitude of his contributions and influence as a young systematic theologian at the Second Vatican Council, a liturgical and biblical theologian, Archbishop of Munich, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope John Paul II's closest collaborator, and then Pope, will only be understood and fully appreciated over time. His contemplative serenity and radiant joy as the Vicar of Christ has inspired the entire world.

"I have a wonderful memory of going to the North American College in Rome during my graduate student priest days. As I walked down the Janiculum Hill one night, I came upon then-Cardinal Ratzinger who was walking up the hill on the other side of the street. He gave me this radiant smile after his long day and waved. It touched me deeply.

"In December 2011, at the Pennsylvania Bishop's Ad Limina visit, we had a wonderful and animated discussion with Pope Benedict and I had the opportunity to thank him personally for his recent catechesis on prayer in which he teaches the universal church the importance of sacrificing deeply to pray deeply.

"On behalf of the entire Diocese of Allentown, I offer our prayers to Pope Benedict XVI as he prepares for his well-deserved retirement. And together we pray to the Holy Spirit for the selection of his successor."