Local Catholic parishioners and even Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte were shocked when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Monday morning.
"Oh, I was surprised," Bishop Jugis said.
Bishop Jugis led the Monday mass at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in Dilworth and almost immediately addressed the resignation, praying for the pontiff's strength and protection.
"In this mass we pray for our holy father, Pope Benedict," he said.
About 85 people attended the mass, twice the regular number.
"[It's] surprising," parishioner John Phares said.
The pope's brother said doctors recently advised Benedict not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips. The role of pope has demanded travel all over the world as the church grows in areas that include Africa.
Benedict said on Monday about the demands of being pope: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited."
Benedict was elected in 2005 at age 78, the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years.
He leaves behind a conservative legacy that includes bringing back Latin mass and supporting the "New Evangelization" -- a term first popularized by Pope John Paul II but embraced by Benedict.
Jugie said he believes the pope's legacy will be his focus and promotion of the New Evangelization, which is in part about reaching non-believers and bringing others back to the Church.
Jugie met with the pope last May when he and other bishops from the Southeast reported on the state of the Catholic faith in the area.
He wanted to assure parishioners that God is guiding them through the transition.
"We know the Good Shepherd is always with us," he said.
Now, attention is turning to who will be Benedict's successor.
"Who knows?" Phares said. "Maybe there will be an American pope in our future here."
Jugis brought up the name of Cardinal Timothy Dalton of New York.
The pope will not "vote" on his successor but he does have a lot of influence on who it will be.
That's because he hand picked more than half of the College of Cardinals.
They are expected to meet to elect the new pope in mid-March.
Benedict said he was stepping down because he didn't have enough strength at 85 years old to do everything the role demands.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese in Oslo, Norway, said it may be time for what he called a "youngish" pope.
But Jugis said age is not a factor and that God has already decided.
"He's already chosen him," he said. "It's already decided. It's up to us to be praying already for that next man who has already been chosen."
Benedict said he would serve the church the rest of his life by dedicating his life to prayer. He will live in a Vatican monastery.