VIRGINIA BEACH-- The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has sent shockwaves through the Catholic community in Hampton Roads.
"I hadn't read the paper, I hadn't watched the news this morning, so I heard it on the radio in the car and as a priest it blew me away because I didn't have an inkling at all,” said Father James Griffin.
Father Griffin's parishioners at the Catholic Church of St. Mark in Virginia Beach were also surprised by the Vatican’s announcement.
"I never really thought about a pope resigning before and kind of didn't think they could. I thought when they were in it was for life,” said Sue Kassel, a member of St. Mark.
The 85-year-old pontiff says his advanced age caused his unprecedented departure.
Church members say they admire him for recognizing his limitations.
"He acknowledged, thank goodness, he just can't do it anymore and I respect him for that," said Anne Galler.
"After thinking a little, it gives me a new respect for the pope because it means he cares more about us," said Kassel.
Father Griffin had the opportunity to be in the pontiff's presence and describes Benedict XVI as a warm, welcoming leader.
“I can't imagine an 85-year-old man with two-hour liturgies and baptisms and the whole weight of the world behind you. I can't imagine he'd be up to it much longer," said Father Griffin.
The Vatican says a new pope will be picked by Easter.