Philippines feels sympathy for pope: president's office

People across the mainly Catholic Philippines feel regret, gratitude and sympathy after Pope Benedict XVI announced plans on Monday to resign, a presidential spokesman said Monday.

"Not only the Catholic world, but all peoples and nations of goodwill are filled with great regret," one of President Benigno Aquino's spokesmen, Edwin Lacierda, said in a statement.

"At this time, when the pope has announced the physical challenges he faces makes it difficult to continue bearing the burdens of his office, we join the Catholic world and all whose lives he has touched in prayer and sympathy."

The 85-year-old pope announced on Monday he would resign because of health reasons.

Lacierda praised the pope for showing humility by resigning, as he recalled the sympathy the pontiff expressed for Filipinos when the country was hit by deadly storms and other disasters.

"We recall, in particular, with fond gratitude, the many prayers and comforting words Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated to Filipinos in times of calamity and challenge," he said in a statement.

Lacierda also cited the pope's role in many events that rallied Catholics in the Philippines, such as last year's canonisation of Pedro Calungsod, who became the second Filipino saint in history.

The Philippines is regarded as Asia's bastion of Catholicism. About 80 percent of the country's 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of three centuries of Spanish colonialism that ended in the late 1800s.

The church still wields great influence in the Philippines, where divorce and abortion are illegal.

However Aquino overcame fierce church opposition to this year push through a birth control law that requires government health centres to give away contraceptives to the poor.