After meeting with Pope Benedict on Thursday, priests from the Rome diocese said they are sad he is retiring and that he was a great gift to the Church.

""We're sad because a Pope is not only a theoretical leader, he's the man to whom you give your allegiance and your vows, so there's a direct link and a sadness in that," said Father Robert, after the Pope met Feb. 14 with the clergy of his diocese at Paul VI Hall.

"It's very sad because we're losing a wonderful shepherd and a wonderful theologian, but he is also being realistic about the other acts of governance that he has to do," Fr. Robert told CNA.

The priest, who is originally from South Africa, also praised the Pope's intellectual contributions, calling him "a giant in the Church."

In keeping with his academic gifts, Pope Benedict spent his final meeting with the priests of his diocese sharing his thoughts about participating in Vatican II and how he understands it.

"He's been a man who has had a wonderful influence in terms of the need to understand our faith," he said.

Another priest, Paulist Father Francesco Cupello, said he has supported Pope Benedict for 35 years.

"I love this Pope very much, because I was his supporter since 1978, during the conclave when John Paul I and John Paul II were elected," said Fr. Francesco of Rome's Society of St. Paul.

"I was his supporter, so I was so happy when he was elected and very, very sad now," he added.

The priest, who forms part of the order in charge of one of the world's biggest Catholic publishing houses, said the Pope influenced him a lot in how he interprets the Second Vatican Council.

"I was very happy with his 'Summorum Pontificum' and when he restored the ancient liturgy, because he had a lot of courage to do this."

Fr. Francesco said that this "meant very much" and that it was "a great gift to the whole Church."

"It changed my life because I love ancient liturgy and now I celebrate it whenever I've the possibility," he said.

A Tanzanian priest studying in Rome also said Pope Benedict has greatly influenced his priesthood and his life.

"His spiritual life has influenced me as a priest because he was a real father and indicated that you celebrate Mass with full attention, allowing people to participate fully in the liturgy and for them to recognize the coming of God in the consecration," said Father Patrick Tibangayuka, who is studying for his PhD in philosophy.

"He has also influenced me in his spirit of listening," said the African priest, who is originally from the Diocese of Bukoba.

"He would listen to everybody with an eye of respect and of reasoning and he would give clear answers, basing himself on the Church's teachings, building himself on the Scripture and on tradition," he added.

Fr. Tibangayuka said he was shocked when he heard about Pope Benedict's resignation, but he thinks it was a "courageous decision" and "has shown great humility."
"Yesterday at the (general) audience he said don't be afraid because Jesus is there, so we are confident, and the other Pope who is coming will carry on the mission – he will be a hard worker, a holy man and courageous as the Pope has been," he said.

The Tanzanian priest called Pope Benedict's lecture on the Second Vatican Council that took place yesterday "interesting."

"We have had a lecture of a real soul and I'm grateful we were able to participate," said Fr. Tibangayuka.