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Alex Cabrero, Deseret News
Eighth-graders at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Kearns talk about Benedict XVI beginning a new journey as emeritus pope, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

KEARNS — Benedict XVI received an emotional send-off Thursday as he began his journey into retirement.

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Kearns, teachers and students reflected on what the historical day in the Catholic Church meant to them.

“Tradition is important and it’s a very strong part of the Catholic Church, but responsibility to all of the Catholics in the world is much more important,” said eight-grade teacher Veronica Brand. “I’m very impressed the pope made that step.”

Benedict announced he was resigning because he no longer had the strength to fulfill his duties of his office.

“His health wasn’t the best, so he couldn’t really leave the church, so it’s better for the church if we have a healthier pope,” eight-grader Connor Dumont said.

Myranda Alcas, also an eight-grader, said Benedict’s decision to resign was a surprise, but said: “If I was the pope, I think I would probably retire too, if my health was bad.”

His decision to retire wasn’t a radical idea to them, Brand said.

“He’s the only pope they have ever known,” she said. “It makes sense to them that he would retire. They know people that retire.”

The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Salt Lake Diocese, said there’s a sense of sadness in the community and people don’t like to say goodbye. He watched history in the making as Benedict made his final public remarks as pope. He said there was an outpouring of affection for the 85-year-old.

“He’s a kind, gentle, gracious gentlemen in the true sense of that word, and I think people pick up on that,” Bishop Wester said. “They are now realizing, as we often do as human beings when things come to an end, how much they did appreciate him and how grateful they are to him.”

The chair of Peter is vacant until a new pope is elected. Bishop Wester said he believes  the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will have a new leader before Easter.

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