Sunday, April 20, 2014
Nicole Winfield / The Associated Press
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Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Catholic masses in St. Peter's Square Wednesday for the last time before retiring, making several rounds of the square as crowds cheered wildly and stopping to kiss a half-dozen children brought up to him by his secretary. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday for the final time before retiring, waving to tens of thousands of people who have gathered to bid him farewell. At one point he stopped to kiss a baby handed up to him by his secretary.
Benedict has said he decided to retire after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn't have the "strength of mind or body" to carry on.
"I have taken this step with the full understanding of the seriousness and also novelty of the decision, but with a profound serenity in my soul," Benedict told the crowd Wednesday.
Benedict will meet Thursday morning with cardinals for a final time, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
There, at 8 p.m., the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over — for now.
Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict's successor were in St. Peter's Square for his final audience. Those included retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, the object of a grass-roots campaign in the U.S. to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will be among the 115 cardinals voting on who the next pope should be.
Also in attendance Wednesday were cardinals over 80, who can't participate in the conclave but will participate in meetings next week to discuss the problems facing the church and the qualities needed in a new pope.
"I am joining the entire church in praying that the cardinal electors will have the help of the Holy Spirit," said Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, 82.
Herranz has been authorized by the pope to brief voting-age cardinals on his investigation into the leaks of papal documents that exposed corruption in the Vatican administration.
Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave.
But the rank-and-file faithful in the crowd Wednesday weren't so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for years.
"I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church," said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old homemaker who traveled by train from Lugo in central Italy with some 60 members of her parish. "There's nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won't leave us without a guide."
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Catholic masses in St. Peter's Square Wednesday for the last time before retiring, making several rounds of the square as crowds cheered wildly and stopping to kiss a half-dozen children brought up to him by his secretary.
Tens of thousands of people toting banners saying "Grazie!" – "thank you" – jammed the piazza to bid farewell to the pope at his final general audience – the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.
Pilgrims and curiosity-seekers picked spots along the main boulevard leading to the square to watch Wednesday's event on giant TV screens. Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict's final master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.
"It's difficult – the emotion is so big," said Jan Marie, a 53-year-old Roman in his first years as a seminarian. "We came to support the pope's decision."
With chants of "Benedetto" erupting every so often, the mood was far more buoyant than during the pope's final Sunday blessing and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
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Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday after making several rounds of the square as crowds cheered wildly.