AT first, the Archbishop of Winnipeg thought the early-morning phone call Monday was a prank.
"I thought it was a joke," said James Weisgerber. "I thought it was April Fool's."
However, news of Pope Benedict's sudden resignation swept the globe Monday morning, and Weisgerber said the enormity of Benedict's decision took hold -- including the Pope's 85 years and his declining health. "It's a job with unbelievable and relentless pressures," Weisgerber noted. "There must be immense stress."
Weisgerber, who had met Benedict on several occasions, called the Pope's surprise announcement "very courageous."
"It is quite unprecedented and precedent-setting," he noted.
"It is something that has not happened for so many years. That function is for life."
Asked about Benedict's legacy, Weisgerber said the Pope "has convinced some people that faith and reason are friends. There's such a thing around the world that faith is irrational. It's anything but."
Christopher Adams, rector of St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, said the Catholic community in Winnipeg "would be very interested" to see if the next pope becomes the first to be elected from outside of Europe.
In fact, Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet has been listed by two British betting houses as No. 2 in the early running to replace Benedict.
Ouellet, who participated in the conclave that led to Benedict's papal election in 2005, has also served as prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Weisberger said of Ouellet's name being put forward: "I would give credence to that. He spent 25 years in Latin America. He's fluent in English, French and Spanish.
"At this level, it's a political thing. People are looking for strengths and weaknesses. The ability to communicate is very important."