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Obama extends thanks, prayers to departing pope

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI said today he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world's 1 billion Catholics.

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama is sending his thanks and prayers to Pope Benedict XVI, who announced today that he will step down this month.

Obama says he and first lady Michelle Obama have warm memories of their 2009 visit with the pope. Obama is offering best wishes to the cardinals who will gather in mid-March to choose his successor, and says Catholics play a key role in the U.S. and abroad.

Benedict became the first pontiff to step down in 600 years when he declared he would resign Feb. 28, citing a lack of strength to do the job. When he was elected in 2005, he was 78 — the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years.

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