SCRANTON -- At St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton you could definitely sense this was a historic occasion.
You have to go all the way back to the 15th century to find the last time a pope resigned.
"I was shocked but actually thinking about it, I have great admiration for him," said Madeline Santaniello of Scranton.
But the bishop of the Scranton diocese says the decision may actually turn out to be Pope Benedict's greatest legacy.
Bishop Joseph Bambera celebrated noon mass at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton following the news that the pope plans to resign at the end of the month.
"In so many respects, I believe this is perhaps his greatest and last gift to the church," said Bishop Bambera.
Wearing a gold cross given to him by Pope Benedict, Bishop Bambera spoke about the man who appointed him to lead the Scranton Diocese and the choice he has now made to resign.
"I think Pope Benedict understands that our world is a little bit different right now," said Bishop Bambera. "I think he realizes that what the Church needs right now is someone who can bring energy that physically he doesn't have."
At the University of Scranton, theology professors say their students are captivated by the events.
"I have already had some students contact me to explain what is going on. Some students thought that this was actually impossible," said Dr. Patrick Clark, assistant professor of theology.
"This pope has been full of surprises. And this is, I think, the final surprise."
While there is sadness that the pope is resigning, here is also plenty of curiosity about what the future holds.
"I was surprised because I had prayed he would stay a little longer," said one mass-goer.
"A little bit surprised. I have never in my lifetime seen anything like it."
At the noon mass at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton, Bishop Bambera offered prayers for the health of the man who appointed him, Pope Benedict XVI.
The bishop said was watching the news when he found out about the pope's plan to step down at the end of the month.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that is would be an announcement that our Holy Father Benedict the 16th was resigning," said Bishop Bambera.
As news about the pope's decision sinks in, interest is growing about who the new pope may be and his influence on the church
"Maybe the African priest could be a whole new ballgame for the church."
"Pretty interesting. We have been told that our bishop or cardinal from New York, Tim Dolan has a chance of becoming the first American pope," said Sean Scanlon of Scranton.
"Clearly, the college of cardinals has representatives from all over the world. We will continue to be surprised by the way in which the spirit moves once the people who are called to serve," said Bishop Bambera.
The bishops of Allentown, Harrisburg, and Scranton have all issued statements on the pope's resignation. To read their statements, click here.