A stunning resignation in Rome has sent shock waves around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he will step down at the end of February, becoming the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.

During a meeting of Vatican cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI made the announcement, citing the lack of strength to fulfill his duties.

"I thought right away it was a blockbuster announcement," said Monsignor James Treston, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Spring Twp., Berks Co. "I think it takes a lot of courage to do that, but he's looking beyond, seeing what's best for the church."

Benedict was elected pope in 2005 at the age of 78, one of the oldest to be chosen in nearly 300 years. He replaced Pope John Paul II.    

Now, at 85, the pope said he's no longer suited to carry out the job. He will resign on Feb. 28.

"I think he made the right decision if he doesn't physically feel like he's able. He's the person who guides the church," said Sheryl Lanciano, the director of music at St. Ignatius Loyola Education Center in Spring Township.

Bishop John Barres with the Allentown Diocese, which covers Berks County, said in part, "This is an act of great courage and humility. It speaks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the person of the pope." 

"He was very forthright about his inability to continue the pace and the schedule," said Treston.

Some Catholics said they were surprised by the news, but thought this could be an opportunity to bring new, younger life into the church.

"John Paul opened a lot of windows and got down with the people. I think that's what we need again. We need a young pope," said John Calvaresi, assistant principal at St. Ignatius Loyola Education Center.

Normally, there would be a nine-day mourning period following the death of a pope. In this case, that does not need to be observed. The Vatican will hold a conclave to elect a new pope by the end of March.

The secret meeting will be held in the Sistine Chapel, and cardinals will cast ballots to elect the new pope. The ballots will be burned after each voting round, and white smoke coming out the chimney means a new pope has been elected.