In the quiet of a noon Mass on Monday, the Rev. George Iregi repeated the news that lingered in the minds of Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI was resigning.
"It's a shock to many people," Iregi told the crowd of about 50 congregants at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa. "What we know is we have to put the charge in the hands of the Holy Spirit."
Iregi was among Catholics and church officials across Tampa Bay surprised by the pope's announcement Monday that he would retire Feb. 28 because of poor health, the first to do so in nearly 600 years. But they also offered their gratitude, saying the pontiff had given priority to the interests of the church.
"This is history," said the Rev. Matthew Gamber of Jesuit High School in Tampa. "At 85 years old, he has given everything, so we're super grateful, we love him, we will miss him, we're confused and yet we're trusting in God's greater power."
In a news conference Monday, Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg said the pope long has indicated he would resign if his health declined.
"He has a cane now" Lynch said. "He's just feeling the challenges of age."
The Vatican has a system in place to find a new pope, Lynch said, adding he is confident a replacement will be selected by Easter, March 31. Talk of a Latin, Italian or African pope has already buzzed throughout the Catholic community.
"We're never left leaderless," Lynch said.
Local congregations and Catholic schools won't feel much impact, Lynch said, other than a brief period of uncertainty while the new pope is elected.
Across Tampa Bay, church officials awoke to the news.
"I'm in shock. We're all in shock," said Gamber. "We're all taking it in and we're trying to really see it as Pope Benedict's great act of courage."
About 50 students from Jesuit High School are expected to fly to Brazil for World Youth Day in July, where they were expecting to see Pope Benedict.
Now, Gamber said, "we're going to meet the new pope."
In Safety Harbor, the Rev. Robert Schneider of Espiritu Santo Catholic Church said his congregation respects the pope and doesn't feel left in the dark about his retirement.
"When there's an election of a new pope, there's a sense of excitement," he said. "I think many people are talking how South America, the Philippines and Africa might factor into this."
While just seven weeks from Easter, Schneider said this was a proper moment for the decision because of the introspective nature of Lent.
In Tampa, the Rev. David DeJulio of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church said he received several text messages and emails Monday morning about the news.
"We haven't had a retired pope since the Middle Ages," DeJulio said. "It's going to be kind of interesting, especially as Benedict continues on."
At Christ the King, Iregi spoke to his congregation about meeting the pope in 2007 during a trip to Rome. They prayed together. The pope gave him a rosary.
"He was very kind," Iregi said.
After the Mass, the congregants filed out of the church.
Among them was Nancy Adamo, 66, who said she was proud of the pope.
"Doing something like this," Adamo said, "he has thought of the Catholic Church and the people."
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