Religious and political leaders in Britain have paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI after the pontiff announced he is stepping down as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The most senior figures in the Catholic Church in England and Wales spoke of the 85-year-old pope's "great courage" in making the announcement that he is to resign as leader of the more than billion-strong global Catholic Church because of his age and infirmity.
Their tributes were joined by the two most senior clerics in the Church of England, the Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.
The German-born pope's shock announcement that he is to resign on February 28, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years, sets the stage for a papal conclave to elect his replacement by the end of next month with no clear front runner to succeed him.
The pope, who was elected aged 78 years old in 2005 as the oldest pontiff for a century and a half, made a four-day state visit to Scotland and England in 2010.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and leader of Catholics in England and Wales, said the announcement had "shocked and surprised" everyone.
"Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action," he said.
Archbishop Welby said: "It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict's declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage.
"As I prepare to take up office I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ."
Prime Minister David Cameron, who met the pope in London during his visit to Britain in 2010, said: "He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See. His visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection. He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions."