(NBC NEWS) Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication announcement at a small event in Rome Monday came as such a surprise that the cardinals in the room were astonished, a sentiment echoed around the world as church leaders and laity alike grappled with the news.

“All the cardinals remained shocked and were looking at each other,” Monsignor Oscar Sanchez of Mexico, who was in the room at the time of the announcement, said, according to The Associated Press.

The pope said Monday that he no longer had the strength to carry out his ministry and would step aside Feb. 28 as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Speaking in Latin, the 85-year-old announced his decision during an address at the “Concistory for the canonization of the martyrs of Otranto,” a small event held early in the morning.

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