HARRISONBURG -- Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign at the end of February. The last pope who resigned was Gregory XII more than 600 years ago.
Nancy Heisey met the pope in Rome during an trip to the Vatican in 2007.
"We simply exchanged greetings and he gave each of us as a small gift," said Heisey.
Heisey said the pope's age was very noticeable.
“I remember thinking at the time that he seemed fairly elderly and this was in 2007."
Heisey is the undergraduate academic dean at Eastern Mennonite University and she's also an expert on church history. She said when Benedict XVI took office, many people didn't think he would be pope for a long time.
“Many people said at that time that he would probably be a transitional pope because of his age."
That's the reason Benedict XVI said he is stepping down because of his advanced age. For Blessed Sacrament Pastor Silvio Kaberia this announcement was a surprise.
"I didn't expect it. I don't think anybody expected it because the other pope was there. He was there until he died in office although he was weak physically," said Kaberia.
He said popes now have to meet a lot demands.
“I believe the modern times require quite a lot like the popes are traveling now unlike before where they use to remain in Rome, in the Vatican until the rest of their life.”
Kaberia respects Pope Benedict XVI's decision and so does Betsy Budd, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament.
“I think it's great he recognized what his situation is and that he wanted to take care of it before he could no longer be forceful in the job that he's doing," said Budd.
“I'm guessing he thought he had the influence in the church he wanted to have,” said Heisey.
Heisey said the next pope could be from Africa or Latin America.
Catholic cardinals will meet in early March to choose a new pope. It's likely a successor will be in place before Easter Sunday.
© Copyright 2013 WHSV / Gray Television Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.