KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)--Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down. He'll be known as "Pope Emeritus" after his retirement becomes official, and continue to wear a white cassock. More than a hundred cardinals will be in Rome for the conclave to vote on who should be the next pope. One of them, from right here in Knoxville. We were there as Knoxville Catholics wished cardinal Justin Rigalis well on his journey to Italy.
Cardinal Rigalis entered the sanctuary at all saints catholic church-- greeted by a huge crowd -- all there to pray for him as he helps elect a new pope. The current pontiff resigned because of ailing health.
Cardinal Justin Rigalis says, "it was a surprise, but looking back he said he was elected when he was 78 years old."
Cardinal Rigalis spoke to the group then shook hands with most of them afterwards. It's the closest many people will ever come to the pope. Even though he's said he's not interested in the position, it's possible he could become the next pope. Cardinal Rigalis says, "It theoretically could be me. We're going to be looking for the best qualities we can find."
After the prayer service, everyone gathered at the airport for a sendoff for the cardinal. Students from Catholic High School held homemade banners. They clapped as he arrived. Even the little ones had signs. People lining the terminal to wish him well. Mary Ann Briggs says, "It's very exciting. It's once in a lifetime. I've been alive for several popes, but never under these circumstances."
Shirley Moore says, "There's a lot of turmoil in the church and we're here to offer support in the election of new pope."
A big sendoff for someone with a big job ahead of him.
The pope officially resigns Thursday at 2pm ET. It's unknown when the conclave will begin, but when it does the whole world will watch for the white smoke that signals a newly elected pope.