The news of Pope Benedict's resignation has come as a complete shock to Catholic archbishops in Winnipeg.

"I am absolutely astounded. I mean, this is something completely out of the blue," James Weisgerber, the Archbishop of Winnipeg, told CBC News on Monday, shortly after Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign on Feb. 28.

"But knowing Pope Benedict as I do, I respect him and I know that he thought about this, and I know that he has decided this is the best thing for the church."

Weisgerber has met Benedict a number of times and describes him as a gentleman, a man of great faith and a great leader.

"I think he recognizes the responsibilities of the office are immense. I can't imagine how he can carry on when he is ill or aging, getting debilitated by age," Weisgerber said.

Pope Benedict becomes the first pontiff to step down in almost 600 years.

In a statement on Vatican Radio's website, the 85-year-old Pope said his health is the reason for the surprise announcement.

The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

'That respect remains'

Albert LeGatt, the Archbishop of St. Boniface, said he was also surprised to learn Pope Benedict will be stepping down.

LeGatt said he believes the Pope's decision to resign was not an easy one to make.

"I think it's an action of great courage and also great humility. I always respected him very, very much, and that respect remains," he said.

LeGatt, who had a one-on-one meeting with the Pope in 2006 in Rome, said he was impressed by the pontiff's presence, attentiveness, sincerity and wisdom.

"You can tell when someone is listening very personally, very intently. And that was the quality of his listening," he said.

LeGatt said it's worth noting that Pope Benedict announced his resignation on the World Day of the Sick, a global day of prayer for those who are ill and those who care for them.

Local Catholics react

Catholics in Winnipeg are also dealing with the sudden news of Pope Benedict's resignation.

Dawn Kautz said Benedict gave so much to youth through World Youth Day and beyond.

"I love that he's been on Twitter in the last little while, really encouraging Catholics to live out their faith in the digital age as well," she said.

Kautz and her husband have six children, including one they named Benedict.

Madison Giesbrecht, 20, who went to World Youth Day last year in Spain, said Pope Benedict has been a pillar of wisdom, spiritual direction and leadership for her.

"I think this is a really courageous and humble thing for him to do, realizing that with his strength and his sickness that he just can't lead the church in that way anymore," said Giesbrecht, who works at the Catholic School of Evangelization in St. Malo, Man.

"But I was a little bit shocked and disappointed," she added.

Christine Delorme, who attended mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in Winnipeg on Monday afternoon, said it's time for Pope Benedict to take care of himself.

"He's a heavenly figure, fatherly figure, and I say all power to him. Go home, take a nap. Have a strong cup of coffee and relax," she said.

"The Catholic priests quit … way before that age," she added. "If the Catholic priests can do it, why can't the Pope?"