It’s an historic day for those in the Catholic faith, the first time in centuries a pope has stepped down – to mark the day, hundreds of Edmonton Catholics gathered for mass at St. Joseph’s Basilica, to celebrate Pope Benedict’s eight years leading the Catholic Church.

The mass of thanksgiving started at noon Thursday, hours after the pontiff left the papal palace in the Vatican for the last time.

In Edmonton, many who attended the mass expressed adoration for Pope Benedict’s time as pope – and respect for his courageous decision to step down.

“We are saying thank you God for giving us such a wonderful Pope, and then saying this mass, wishing him well as he retires,” Seminarian Sylvester Ibekwe said Thursday.

Ibekwe was to sing at Thursday’s mass - the local seminarian said he’s drawn inspiration from the lessons and writings of the pope.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said it’s an emotional time for parishioners.

“He has been the church’s, and I would say one of history’s great intellectuals, great teachers, able to take the faith, in all of its profundity and richness, and distill it, and communicate fully and faithfully but in a way that’s intelligible for people,” Archbishop Smith said.

Organizers said the Mass was planned to coincide with the exact hour Benedict’s papacy would end – at 8 p.m.  Central European Time.