Pope Benedict XVI stunned cardinals Monday by announcing he is no longer able to fulfil his duties as head of the Catholic Church due to age and failing health, and is stepping down at the end of the month.

In Saint John, the faithful believe today’s resignation is for the best.

“Where he’s sick, he knows,” says Catholic Church member Gary McGrath. “You need both wisdom and strength of body and his body is not strong.”

“Knowing that he’s been very ill, I thought, ‘thank you God, you’re looking after him,’ but I have deep hope in my heart and know that the Lord will provide,” says Imelda O’Conner.

“It rattled me, but I guess when you look at it, he’s old, and you’ve got to get somebody in there a little more modern I think,” says Wayne Murphy.

There was a similar response among choir members today at St. Benedict Parish in Halifax.

“We understand that he is 85 and we feel that he is the one that is best to decide,” say choir member Angela Gerard.

“He isn’t well and he’s elderly and it’s a very positive thing that after 600 years, he’s had the courage to do this,” says choir member Lynda Tyler.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Halifax recently visited with the pontiff and says he was shocked by the announcement.

“He’s alert, we spoke together,” says Anthony Mancini. “I told him who I was and where I was from and the moment I said I was from Nova Scotia, he immediately switched over to English.”

Bishop Robert Harris met with the aging pope last fall. He says the transition period until a new pope is chosen will be routine for churchgoers.

“In the meantime, all the congregations continue doing their work, the diocese throughout the world, with their bishops, will continue doing their work. The laity will continue practicing their faith.”

It remains to be seen whether the new pope will open the door to change within the Catholic Church. Church observers say if there is change, it will almost certainly be of a gradual nature.

Some people say the weight of responsibility and the weight of scandal took its toll on Pope Benedict.

“That would have worn him down, I’m sure of it, because it’s worn a lot of us down,” says church activist Elizabeth McGahan.

McGahan is among a group of Catholics advocating change in the church, including the ordination of women.

However, she says a huge swing in church doctrine is likely not in the cards.

“The appointee will have to satisfy a broad spectrum of opinion within the College of Cardinals. It will never be from that side, to that side, it will be gradual,” says McGahan.

Congregations around the region are saying special prayers today for the future of the Church and for whoever is chosen as its next spiritual leader.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron