KUSA - Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world's 1 billion Catholics. The 85-year-old pope announced the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators, even though Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.

Monday morning, the Denver Archbishop Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L. released the following statement regarding the Pope's decision:

"This morning, Pope Benedict XVI announced, effective Feb. 28, he will resign the office of the papacy. I ask all Christians, and all people of good will, to join me in lifting their hearts in gratitude to the Father for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI in his service to Jesus Christ, the Church and all humanity.

Pope Benedict XVI is a man of deep faith with an extraordinary love for Jesus Christ and the Church. He is a man of keen intelligence, great strength, compassion and humility, who has faithfully served the Church throughout his life in diverse ways, always obedient to Christ and seeking the will of the Father. The witness of his life and work has borne incredible fruit and will continue to do so in his retirement. His impact on the Church will be felt for generations to come.

At 85, the Holy Father has heard the Lord call him to resign from his office due to his physical weakness and to prepare for a new shepherd to come forward in leadership to the Church. Let us join the Holy Father in commending the future of the Church to the Father's care, to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Let us praise the Lord for his servant of servants, Pope Benedict XVI."