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Surprise, excitement in St. Peter's Square after pope's announcement

Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images

Tourists and the faithful walk on St Peter's Square at the Vatican on Tuesday. The Catholic Church entered uncharted waters after Pope Benedict XVI's shock announcement that he would become the first pontiff to resign in more than 700 years.

VATICAN CITY — The faithful in the heart of the world’s Catholic community reacted with surprise and excitement to the Pope’s decision to step aside.

Among the crowds in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within Rome, ordinary Italians joined the lines of tourists waiting to get inside St Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday.


"We were shocked and decided to come here to pray," said Roberta Roteri, a financial sales worker from Sicily who was visiting Rome on business with her friend Elena when the news broke on Monday lunchtime.

Alastair Jamieson / NBC News

Italian newspapers' reaction to the pope's decision to step down. "A historic farewell" is the headline in La Repubblica.

"Maybe all the scandals that have been revealed in recent months have contributed to his decision," she said as she stood in the biting wind. "He has been a good pope, but I hope they will choose somebody young who can touch our hearts deep inside in the way John Paul II did."

Italy’s newspapers reflected just how unprecedented Monday’s announcement was.

"The Pope leaves — a historic farewell," ran the headline in La Repubblica, the country's largest newspaper.

"We enter an uncharted territory," added the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Ezio Mauro, one of Italy’s leading journalists.

'A little more tolerant'
Cynthia Aponte, from Oceanside, California, was among the Americans on vacation whose visit to the Vatican has been given an added point of interest.

"It’s certainly a surprise," she said. “I was taking pictures of the television news because we couldn’t quite believe it.”

"It’s an exciting time for people here and Catholics in the U.S.," added her friend Josephine Estrella from Los Angeles.

Alastair Jamieson / NBC News

Josephine Estrella, from Los Angeles, Calif., and Cynthia Aponte, from Oceanside, Calif. -- both on vacation in Rome in St Peter's Square on Tuesday.

Abby Leskovar, from Rome, N.Y., said she hoped the new pope would spell changes at the top.

"It will be interesting to see who they choose — hopefully someone who can make the church maybe a little more tolerant," she said.

Her friend Eric Stebbins, also from Rome, N.Y., added: "In America, where diversity is important, I think a pope from a different background would be a popular choice."

That sentiment was echoed by Scott Reising, on vacation from Cincinnati, Ohio, with his wife, Kate. "Imagine the boost the Catholic Church could have if it had a leader from the Third World," he said.

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