POPE Benedict XVI's decision to resign as head of the world's largest Christian denomination has shocked and surprised Catholics in Fiji and Rotuma.
Archbishop elect of Suva Father Dr Peter Chong said while Pope Benedict's decision was unexpected, members of the Archdiocese of Fiji and Rotuma respected it because it was made based on honesty.
In a statement sent by the Vatican to archbishops around the world, Pope Benedict, 85, cited age and declining health as his reason for stepping down. He becomes the third pope to resign as head of the church since 1292 when Pope Celestine V stepped down. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants.
Father Dr Chong said Catholics in Fiji should respect the Pope's wish.
"It's his prerogative as Pope if he wants to resign and he requires no acceptance by anyone," he said.
"It's the most humble and honest decision since most of the time Popes fall victims to criticism when they make public appearances. Pope Benedict was sick.
"It is indeed a surprise. In fact, we were shocked when I learned it from the Vatican."
When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005 at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years.
At the time, he had already been planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.
On Monday, Benedict said he planned to serve the church for the remainder of his days "through a life dedicated to prayer".
The Vatican says after he officially resigns on February 28, he will travel to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then live in the monastery.