Pope Benedict XVI's resignation last Monday, effective at month's end, was a shock to Roman Catholics here as well as worldwide.
Even Vatican insiders had no inkling of Benedict's intentions as spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Monday that "the pope took us by surprise."
A few area people attending St. Boniface Catholic Church's Ash Wednesday fish dinner said they did not think Pope Benedict resigning is a good idea.
The Rev. John K. Manno places ashes on the forehead of Mary Lario, of Williamsport.
Most, though, thought that the Pope's decision was appropriate if he's not feeling up to the demands of the job.
"If he recognized he was having a problem, it was the best thing that could happen if he can't do this job anymore," Sue Lings said. "Especially when you hear that he might have people advising him who maybe should not be advising him."
"It's a great idea," said Barb Coolidge. "I commend him for having his faculties that he knew it was time."
Many people cited Benedict's age and health issues as valid reasons to retire.
"He had a pacemaker put in even before he was made pope, and now he's 85," said Vivian Winters. "My father couldn't do anything with his heart condition once he had a pacemaker."
"He's a few years older than me, and I couldn't travel to Cuba and all of those countries," said one woman who did not give her name.
"He was too old when they elected him," said Pauline March. "If he feels he can't do the work, put somebody else in there who can."
Several people said that they hope Benedict has set a precedent for future popes.
"It's wonderful that he has a choice - it seems modern," said another woman who declined to be named.
"It's probably a good thing so they can think about it before they get so ill," Pat Chesnut said. "Maybe he can enjoy the last few years of his life."
Area priests echoed the belief that Benedict made a prudent decision.
"There is an expectation that popes shouldn't resign," said the Rev. Glenn McCreary, of the Church of the Resurrection in Muncy. "John Paul II certainly held onto the office even when he was very, very ill ... I imagine he seemed to want to say something about the dignity, the worth of human life, even when it was weak. On the other hand, what Benedict is doing is balancing that important statement with the very real needs of the church day to day."
"I give him credit for knowing when it's time to fold the cards," said the Rev. John Manno, of Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville. "The human is limited - we're a channel of God's love and peace, and as a channel we are finite, but we are frail."
Since Benedict plans to retire to a Vatican monastery and is unlikely to write more books, it is doubtful he will interfere in the affairs of his successor.
"If he was still going to stay around and be active in other ways, that I think would be more problematic," said the Rev. Bert Kozen, of Immaculate Conception and St. Luke's churches. "In essence, he's just going to retire to private living."
Few expect that the next pope will be American.
"I think he will be Asian or African or from Latin America," Coolidge said. "That's where the church is going."
"I think that there are Americans who have the gifts and the ability to assume that office," Kozen said. "But the American church is still just a small portion of the universal Roman Catholic Church."
"For many centuries we had Italian pope after Italian pope," McCreary said. "That door is a little more open than it ever had been, but I'm not sure that time is yet."