Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign from office. His announcement, as provided by the Vatican, cites his advanced age as a primary factor.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," wrote the Pope.
Church leaders across the state are reacting as the pope is the spiritual leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics.
In Manasquan, the Church of Saint Denis asked parishioners to pray for the pontiff and for the work the cardinals have ahead to select a pope.
"Please pray for Pope Benedict XVI, for the cardinals who will elect a new Pontiff, and for all of us in the Church at this time of transition. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide the Church today and always!" wrote the church in a public statement.
Rev. Jeffrey Kegley of Saint Mary in Middletown said he immediately realized the importance of this historic moment, because the last time a pope stepped down was 600 years ago.
"It's shocking to the whole Catholic community," said Father Kegley. "He is a holy, humble man, and a very bright man. He is sharp as a tack to be able to do this, in freedom. It shows humility, to say you can't continue to do the job."
For Father Bob Grodnicki of St. Luke Roman Catholic Church in Toms River, the Pope's stepping aside came as a "shock" but shows that he "has to love the church to do this."
"Our generation has seen things that no other has seen before," said Grodnicki, who is in his 60s. The resignation of the Pope can be added to a series of monumental events that people never thought they'd witness, such as the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and man landing on the moon.
"All these things that never happened before have," Grodnicki said. "I think that's just incredible."
Rev. Roman Nilo Apura of St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church in Point Borough described Pope Benedict XVI as a "shepherd" and a "scholar."
"He tried to draw them back into the church," Apura said. "He spoke for the poor, he visited them and he wrote about the need for equality among nations."
Those local churches are part of the Archdioces of Trenton's very active Roman Catholic parishes, and this afternoon the Archdiocese announced a statement of its own on the Pope's resignation for Feb. 28.
The Bishop of Trenton, Rev. David M. O'Connell, noted the news came on a significant day in the Roman Catholic calendar, and that Lent begins this week, making the news even more "stunning."
"Having been appointed Bishop of Trenton by him and, before that, approved as President of the Catholic University of America, I feel a genuine closeness to him. I was so honored to welcome him to Washington during my tenure.," O'Connell said in a prepared statement released by the Archdiocese.
The Bishop said he has a love for the Pope and that the admiration begun before he was a cardinal.
"Over the years in both his role as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope, I have come to love and admire him greatly. He had an incredible ability to make the most profound and intense aspects of our faith clear and accessible not only to Catholics but to all people," he said.
The Pope helped the world understand Catholicism, he said.
"In my mind, he was an absolutely inspired choice to succeed Blessed Pope John Paul II, both for his theological teaching and for his fatherly pastoral presence," he said. "I have always found him to be gentle and kind, despite the contrary perception created by some."
O'Connell said in his statement that he felt some "sadness" at the announcement, but was impressed by the "courage and devotion" demonstrated by the Pope.
"In a world where power and influence are sought after and held tightly, this passing of the papal crozier speaks volumes about Pope Benedict XVI's humility and desire that the Catholic Church be led effectively and well," the bishop said.
Rev. Richard Basznianin of the Church of St. Pius X in Forked River was not immediately available for comment.
You can read the full text of the Pope's declaration via VaticanRadio.
Tell us in the comments how you feel about the Pope's resignation.