Pope Benedict XVI spoke to his followers on his final day as head of the Catholic Church, thanking them for respecting his need to step down at this time. He described the decision as one made “after much prayer,” and as “the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s Church,” according to ABC News on Feb. 27.
The historic decision makes Benedict, 85, the first pope to voluntarily vacate his position in 600 years. He thanked those in Rome and around the world for their support and prayers.
The city of Rome anticipated in excess of 200,000 people to be present for the historic event. Benedict did indeed address hundreds of thousands of people. Streets around St. Peter’s had to be closed off to vehicular traffic to make way for the pedestrians. Many carried colored banners and flags in the pope’s honor. Benedict made a final tour of the square from the glass-enclosed popemobile.
The religious leader asked followers to continue to pray for him and his successor, saying, “”My heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his church.”
On Thursday morning, he will meet with his cardinals. Then in the afternoon, he will be flown by helicopter to the papal residence south of Rome where he will make an appearance from the palazzo’s balcony. This will be his last public act as pope. His retirement becomes official at 9 p.m. Thursday evening and the Swiss guards outside the Castel Gandolfo palazzo will go off duty as their service to protect the pope will be completed. Benedict plans to use his retirement to do more praying and meditation.
There have been a number of rumors regarding the reason for the pope’s resignation but in recent days Italian newspapers have suggested the reason has to do with a dossier Benedict received that details a blackmail and sex scandal within the Catholic Church. A spokesman for the Vatican has confirmed the dossier exists but the contents will remain privy to the pope and his investigators.
Benedict’s replacement will be chosen by the conclave of cardinals at an unspecified date in March.
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