The Bishop of Lancaster spoke of the shock surrounding the unexpected announcement that the pope is resigning.
Pope Benedict XVI will leave his post at the end of the month.
The German-born Pontiff, 85, is resigning due to his age and diminishing strength.
He was elected to the papacy in 2005, only the second non-Italian Pope since 1522 and the oldest on election since the 18th century.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415.
The Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, said: “The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s impending resignation at the end of February will have come as a shock and a cause of sadness to many Catholics and to numerous others, believers and non-believers alike.
“The burden of the Petrine office is a heavy one and the Church can be immensely grateful for the willingness of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in assuming such a responsibility at his age in 2005.
“We can but admire his courage in deciding that he no longer possesses the physical and mental strength to continue as the successor of Peter.”
Bishop Campbell added: “Since his election the Holy Father has carried out his papal duties with devotion and dignity, and employed his many gifts, not least those of a fine intellect, as supreme pastor of the Church.
“Catholics in England and Scotland recall with pleasure and pride, as well as gratitude, his recent visit to these islands and the powerful impact for good his presence had on so many of our fellow-citizens.
“Being Pope, with concern for all the churches as St. Paul expressed it, has never been easy.
“History will record the years of Pope Benedict’s papacy as particularly difficult and trying ones for the Church. Equally, his prayerfulness and quiet dignity brought a sense of God’s calm and reassurance to believers in often troubled times.”
In 2010 more than 1,500 Catholics representing the Diocese of Lancaster attended events during the Pope’s visit to the UK.
More than 400 Catholics from the north of the diocese travelled to Glasgow yesterday, Thursday, to welcome Pope Benedict and to celebrate Mass with him on the first day of his state visit.
And a further 500 parishioners travelled to Birmingham to celebrate mass with the pontiff.