ABU DHABI // The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came as a shock to priests and expatriate Roman Catholics in the UAE.
But they said they respected his decision and urged the faithful to pray for him.
Father George Kunnel, the assistant parish priest of St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, said he learnt about it on the internet.
"We are all shocked to hear the news," said Father Kunnel, 40, who has been serving at St Joseph's for more than a year.
"It's his personal decision not to continue with his job and no one can challenge that."
Father Antiono Yapchiongco, a Filipino priest at St Michael's church in Sharjah, said Pope Benedict was instrumental in the church's reforms.
"We've been preparing for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July," Father Yapchiongco said. "How would the youth feel now that he has resigned? It's going to be entirely different."
The Pope declared a Year of Faith beginning on October 11 last year and ending on November 24 this year, said to be an opportunity for Catholics to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him.
"People have been expecting the Pope to carry on his programmes," Father Yapchiongco said. "We're really saddened, but at the same time we need to pray for him."
An Indian parishioner at St Joseph's for 37 years, Bernard Anto, 55, said: "It's saddening to know that he resigned because of ill health.
"Pope John Paul II had served as pope of the Catholic Church, despite his failing health, for a long time. But it's Pope Benedict's personal decision.
"His resignation was a surprise to many as it is out of the ordinary, but it could be the divine will of God."
Liberty Bulalhog, 49, a communion minister at St Joseph's since 2006, said: "I feel so sad and this is totally unexpected."
Ms Bulalhog has been active in the church since arriving from the Philippines in 1996.
"I had the honour to see the Pope at the World Youth Day celebrations in Madrid in August 2011," she said. "He had this aura about him and is an inspiration to all of us."
Lorelie Hernandez, 30, a parishioner at St Mary's church in Dubai for six years, said Catholics all over the world should offer their prayers to the Pope and all other church leaders.
"We're all shocked but coming from the medical field, it's the right decision and worthy of respect," Ms Hernandez said.
"I'm confident his replacement will be equally worthy to be our pope."