Cardinal Donald Wuerl said Monday that the work of the Catholic Church will remain unchanged despite Pope Benedict XVI's decision to step down at the end of the month.
Nonetheless, Wuerl -- speaking at St. Matthew's Cathedral in the District hours after the news broke -- said he was "totally unprepared" for the historic announcement from Vatican City.
"The last time I saw [the pope], I was not concerned at all. It's true, he walked with a cane, but at 85 years old... you're entitled to walk with a cane," Wuerl said. "And he seemed not only very alert but with a good bit of energy."
Wuerl said living in a world with "a retired pope" will require the Church to think a bit differently. He said he expects the pontiff's legacy to be the way he melded the Catholic faith with the modern world. (Pope Benedict XVI made headlines worldwide when he joined Twitter.)
"[It was his] challenge to the world -- the secular world -- the world that so heavily relies on reason, which of course is a great blessing for all of us, our gift of intellect," Wuerl said. "But the Holy Father's challenge [is] that faith and reason are in fact directed to the same good, to truth."
The cardinal also praised the pope for his decision.
"I think it's a sign of the great humility of this pope and his love of the Church and his courage to recognize, as he says in his declaration, that he has come to the conclusion that he doesn't have the energy -- the physical energy -- any longer to discharge his duties as pope," said Wuerl. "That recognition says to me, he is a very humble and honest person."
Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages, NBC News reported.
"I think with the successor is going to have to be, first of all, a person of the great continuity," Wuerl said, adding that he expects the next pontiff to come from a pool of cardinals. ".... The Church traces her continuity all the way back through the apostolic succession to Peter. So we'll be looking [to see] who is a very articulate voice in that continuity."
And he said he expects the change to have little effect on the day-to-day lives of most Catholics.
"The life of the Catholic Church is lived out primarily in parishes. And so there will be no impact on what's going on in our parish life throughout the entire world," Wuerl said.