VATICAN CITY (AP)–  Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28. This would be the first pontiff resign in nearly 600 years. This decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

In a Monday meeting with Vatican cardinals, the 85-year-old announced his decision.

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he told the cardinals.

The last pope to resign dates back to 1415, when Pope Gregory XII resigned and the first pope to voluntarily resign since 1294.

The popes resignation sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave or in other words, a private meeting among Vatican cardinals to elect a new pope by mid-March since the traditional mourning time of a popes death does not need to be observed.

The news comes as shock to Catholics world-wide.