Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who guides the D.C. area's Catholics, learned Monday morning that he will soon travel to Rome to help choose the next pope.
Wuerl says he was as surprised as many in the Catholic world over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to step down at the end of the month.
Wuerl called the decision courageous. "I think it's a sign of the great humility of this pope and his love of the church and his courage," he says.
"It's a little reminiscent of George Washington giving up his office," says Brian, one local Catholic that asked that his last name not be used. "As an American, one can think of that."
Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. A conservative, he found himself at odds with some American Catholics on issues such as women in the priesthood, contraception, abortion, and gay rights.
Wuerl will be part of the conclave tasked with choosing the next pontiff.
"There is a basic doctrine that is a bedrock or is Catholic faith," he says. "So I suspect that every pope is always going to be conscious of the need to proclaim the received tradition of the church. And then the challenge is living with that and applying that to the moment, to the circumstances of our day."