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Pope's Resignation Shocks World

Pope Benedict's announcement Monday that he is resigning by the end of the month has shocked political and religious leaders worldwide.

In New Delhi, a Catholic priest (Father Maurice) expressed the same incredulity as many others around the world.

"I am not able to accept this news that he is going to resign on 28th February. It is absolutely shocking for me.''

The 85-year-old pontiff said he is losing physical and mental strength to carry on with his duties. He will be the first pope to resign from his post in almost 600 years.

As late as September, the pope made a strenuous trip to Lebanon.

Even those closest to him say they did not expect his resignation. Many who saw him recently say he looked capable of carrying out his duties.

Still many Catholics and others have expressed admiration for Pope Benedict's decision.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a former theology student of Pope Benedict and a possible contender for the papacy, said this is a historic moment in which 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath to see who will succeed him.

Vatican officials are expected to select a new pope before Easter, which this year falls on March 31.

There are several contenders, but no obvious front-runner -- the same situation when Pope Benedict was elected in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

His papacy will remain marked by the child sex abuse scandals that surfaced in the past few years and tarnished the Church's image. Last year, he faced a new scandal when his butler was found to be the source of leaked documents alleging corruption in the Vatican's business dealings. Pope Benedict also has been criticized for inflexibility on Church dogmas.

He said he will spend the remainder of his days in reflection and prayer.

U.S. President Barack Obama offered appreciation on behalf of all Americans and said he and his wife Michelle had warm memories of the 2009 meeting with him.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been critical of the pope in the past, said Tuesday that he is and remains one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time.

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