Pope Benedict to resign Feb. 28 - WNCT

Pope Benedict to resign Feb. 28

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VATICAN CITY -

People have started arriving in St. Peter's Square to show support for Pope Benedict. And plans are already underway to choose his successor.

Pope Benedict XVI delivered the surprising message in a speech to cardinals at the Vatican this morning.

The 85 year old pontiff said he will step down February 28th because he is simply too old to carry on. The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics said carrying out his duties requires "both strength of mind and body."

The news stunned church leaders around the world. It's the first time a pope has resigned in nearly six hundred years.

On the streets of Europe, some people refused to believe it.

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope deserves respect for making such a personal and courageous decision to quit.

The Pope's resignation sets the stage for a new papal election. Vatican officials hope to choose a new pope in time for holy week at the end of March.

Pope Benedict had big shoes to fill in 2005 when cardinals chose him to succeed Pope John Paul the second.

One of his biggest tasks was responding to the priest sex abuse scandal. Pope Benedict issued an apology to victims and said the church made serious mistakes.

Today, the pontiff called his choice to resign "a decision of great importance for the life of the church." And said he will dedicate the rest of his life to prayer.

Contenders to replace Pope Benedict include the Archbishop of Milan and the Archbishop of Vienna. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is considered a long shot.

In the coming weeks more than a hundred cardinals from around the world will gather at the Vatican for a conclave to elect the next Pope. The cardinals lock themselves inside the Sistine chapel until they agree on a new pope and send white smoke to signal a decision is made.

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