SAN ANTONIO – Local Catholics are just as surprised as many around the world to hear the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's plans to resign from his position as leader of the Catholic church.
The 85-year-old pontiff made the announcement Monday morning local time, saying he is too tired and weak to continue carrying out his duties.
He said he plans to step down Feb. 28. That falls right in the middle of Lent, one of the holiest seasons of the year for Catholics.
"It's sad," said Janie Camacho, on her way to mass at Holy Trinity Church. "He's our leader. We look up to him. So if he's quitting, it's a sad situation."
Camacho was one of only a few people attending the Monday morning mass who had heard the news.
In fact, there was no mention of the subject as Monsignor Michael Yarbrough delivered his homily.
As the day wore on, though, the news began to spread throughout the city.
Albert Toscano, ducking into the San Fernando Cathedral to say a quick prayer, said he's sorry to see Pope Benedict step down.
However, he said, he believes the time may be right.
"He should give it up. It's terrible (that) people get sick," Toscano said. "I'm sure God will fill in somehow."
Parishioners attending noon mass at San Fernando Cathedral also chimed in.
"I was really surprised and I'm just praying for him," said Juanita Barros. "Of course, his health is first of all. Hopefully, he will be fine and people will understand his illness."
"He's always said that if his age ever starts to affect his performance as Pope, you know his abilities to do his duties, that he would resign," Brian Przbyla. "It was just a big surprise."
The news came so suddenly that even local church leadership was caught off guard.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, with the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said he had just spent three weeks last October visiting Vatican City and attending mass with the pope every day.
Still, the announcement of his resignation blindsided him.
"With great surprise, but with much confidence that he reached his difficult decision after much prayer and reflection," said Garcia-Siller.
During his visit, the archbishop said he never saw any sign of major health problems in the Pope, although he did notice some subtle changes.
"He was walking at a slower pace. He was using a cane but it was not any indication that his health was in jeopardy," he said. "He was very engaging. He was very attentive."
Garcia-Siller said although the Pope's departure will take place during Lent, the Catholic church, locally and around the world, will make it through the season with prayer.
He said the Vatican will begin the initial steps of electing a new pope one week before Pope Benedict departs.
After he steps down, the Pope will return to being a cardinal, Garcia-Siller said.
However, because of age limits set by the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict will not have a vote in choosing his replacement.
The cut-off age is 80, Garcia-Siller said.