The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is to resign on February 28.
In a statement issued by the Holy See on Monday, 85-year old Benedict XVI said that his "advanced age [was] no longer suited to an adequate exercise" of his papal duties.
German-born Benedict XVI, whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger and succeeded John Paul II in 2005, said his "strength of mind and body... in the last few months... has deteriorated... to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
The Pope will resign officially at 20:00 Vatican time on February 28, leaving the role of the head of the Catholic Church vacant. A Vatican spokesperson said he expected a new Pope to elected before the end of March.
Eugenio Mattioli, Parish Priest at St Francis Assisi in Jebel Ali, Dubai, told Arabian Business that he was "shocked" to hear of the Pope's resignation. "Yesterday was Sunday and the Pope was giving the Angelus as usual and now he has resigned, I can't believe it," he said.
Benedict XVI is the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, who did so during the so-called 'Western Schism', when there were three claimants to the papacy.
* Additional reporting by Francesca Astorri