As Cardinals from around the world gather in Rome to elect a new pope, Catholics anxiously await the announcement of their new leader.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 he would resign his duties effective on Feb. 28, it caught the faithful by surprise.

No pope had resigned in 600 years since Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, according to the Catholic News Service.

Since no pope had resigned in so long, many assumed that a pope was elected for life but that is not the case, said Rev. Floyd McKinney of Sacred Heart Church in Pratt.

"It's not mandated that at pope is elected for life," McKinney said. "But it had become a tradition."

His resignation was unique in the present day but it was not unheard of to resign. It certainly sets a modern precedent, McKinney said.

The decision to resign was a bit of a surprise. He made the decision because of his health to let someone take over.

Bishop John Brungardt of the Dodge City Diocese said he was surprised at first but then he had a deep sense of gratitude for his years of service.

"What a dedicated, faithful servant of the Lord," Brungardt said. "I pray for his retirement years.

The pope has served for 61 years as a priest and almost eight years as pope.

"We want to show gratitude for his service to the world wide church," McKinney said. "We are grateful to God for a great leader in this time."

Like many others, McKinney was, at first, caught off guard when the announcement came. He heard it on TV and his first response was "Am I listening to the right channel? Is this real?"

But after letting it set in, with the pope's health and age it wasn't necessarily a surprise. The pope must have spent a lot of time praying about his decision.

Like the pope, good Christians should pray about all their decisions.

As far as changes, McKinney didn't expect to see any within the church. The church has been around since Christ and has gone through many changes in leadership.

But changes within the church don't happen overnight and no major changes are expected. McKinney said

"I have no worries," McKinney said. "The stability of the church keeps us moving forward. We should pray for our Cardinals as they select a new pope."

Like McKinney, many in Pratt were caught off guard when the pope announced he would retire.

Bill Hlavachick said the pope did the right thing when he stepped down. Even though it had been 600 years since the last pope resigned, it was the thing to do.

"If he was smart enough to figure out it was time to quit that was good," Hlavachick said.

Lynn Perez said he thought the pope made a "gutsy call" considering his position.

"If you know you can't handle the reins, it's time to move on," Perez said. "He owned up to it."

Carol Renner was impressed with the pope's decision to retire.

"I thought it sounded very responsible. It was made after much thought and prayer," Renner said.

Making the decision was very tough but it was the right one, said Tammy Thimesch.

"Good for him," Thimesch said. "He realized he was not able to do his job to the best of his ability. The decision is all about free will. Good for him."

The election process

• College of Cardinals elect the new pope.

• Election is called a Conclave.

• Only Cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote.

• Cardinal electors limited to 120.

• From 15 to 20 days after the vacancy the Cardinals gather in St. Peter's Basilica for a Holy Mass seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance.

• Cardinals meet in Sistine Chapel and seal the doors.

• Cardinals hold series of meetings called General Congregations to discuss needs and challenges of the office.

• Four ballots taken every day.

• Two-thirds majority required for election.

• If no majority, ballots are burned with chemicals to produce black smoke.

• If a majority, ballots are burned with chemicals that produce white smoke.

• New pope selects name and dons vestiments.

• Senior Cardinal announces, in Latin, "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope) from St. Peter's Basilica balcony.

• New Pope blesses City of Rome and world.

Information from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops