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Pope's hometown in disbelief over resignation

Andreas Gebert / dpa via AP

A priest stands in front of the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI in the German village of Marktl on Monday, after Benedict announced he would resign because he no longer felt up to the rigors of the job.

MARKTL, Germany -- "We are Pope!" declared the German daily 'Bild' proudly and boldly on its front page after Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. Now, the dream of a German pope is over. Soon it could be "We were Pope!"

The sudden news of the Pope's resignation shocked his native Germany. Radio stations reported that some at first thought the announcement was a bad carnival joke.

"I was shocked, because it came as a real surprise for, I think, everyone, as there were no signs of a resignation," said Josef Kaiser, a local Catholic priest in the Pope's birthplace, Marktl. Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in this Bavarian hamlet in 1927.

After his election, thousands descended on the village in southeastern Germany and his family's former home was turned into a museum. In the ensuing years, 200,000 visitors came to Marktl. On Monday, the evening of his resignation announcement, crowds of mostly journalists and photographers surrounded the pope's birthplace -- the bright lights of television crews lighting up the building possibly for the last time.

Mentioning no specific ailment other than 'advanced age,' Pope Benedict's parting came as a shocking announcement for many – except for the Pope's brother, who said he knew Benedict had been thinking about stepping down for months. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

"Marktl changed, because this was a very sleepy, small village of about two and a half thousand inhabitants and suddenly through the pope's election, it became the center of media attention," Kaiser said.

"It's quite sad that he already resigned," said Marktl's mayor, Hubert Gschwendtner. 

"At first I didn't believe it," Gschwendtner added. "Last June I met him in Rome and he seemed quite well mentally and physically."

But the Pope's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, said Benedict's resignation was not sudden for him. He knew it was a process that had started a while ago and worsened as he weakened.

"He didn't have the strength anymore that the office demands," Ratzinger said.

Javier Barbancho / AFP - Getty Images

Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Look back at his life from childhood through his papacy.

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