In a shock development the Vatican has announced the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The 85-year-old pope is to step down on 28 February, in just over two weeks time.
The announcement comes just two days before the beginning of Lent, the period of fasting that leads up Easter, the most important event in the Christian calendar.
Pope Benedict was elected on 19 April 2005. This is the first time that a pope has resigned since 1415.
There was no indication that Pope Benedict had resignation in mind although it was aired many times during the papacy of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, because of his ill health.