CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) — Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
Bells tolled as the pope left the Vatican by helicopter and circled St. Peter's Square, where banners reading "Thank You" were held up skyward for him to see. The bells tolled anew as he arrived in Castel Gandolfo, whose central piazza was jammed with people eager to catch the last glimpse of Benedict as pope.
His arms raised, the aging Benedict appeared at the balcony of the palazzo where he will spend the first few months of his retirement. The crowds cheering wildly, he said he was happy to be "surrounded by the beauty of creation" on this unique day.
As of 8 p.m., he said to applause, he would no longer be pope.
Benedict's decision to live at the Vatican in retirement, be called "emeritus pope" and "Your Holiness" and wear the white cassock associated with the papacy has deepened concerns about the shadow he might cast over the next papacy.
But Benedict has tried to address those worries over the past two weeks, saying that once retired he would be "hidden from the world" and living a life of prayer.
In his final speech in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, he said he wasn't returning to private life exactly, but rather to a new form of service to the church through prayer.
And on Thursday he went even further with his own public pledge of obedience to the new pontiff.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope's pledge was in keeping with this effort to "explain how he intends to live this unprecedented situation of an emeritus pope."
"He has no intention of interfering in the position or the decisions or the activity of his successor," Lombardi said. "But as every member of the church, he says fully that he recognizes the authority of the supreme pastor of the church who will be elected to succeed him."
The issue of papal obedience is important for Benedict. In his last legal document, he made new provisions for cardinals to make a formal, public pledge of obedience to the new pope at his installation Mass, in addition to the private one they traditionally make inside the Sistine Chapel immediately after he is elected.
"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth," Benedict said, as well-wishers wiped tears from their eyes.
(via Yahoo News)
I am not a Catholic but news of this magnitude cannot help but affect all Christians, everywhere. Although this is the first step in treading unfamiliar territory, I know that he will walk the path with the same quiet, calm, introspective manner which characterized his Papacy.
Time will tell if this was a good decision for him, but I've read enough to know he is doing what he feels is best for his beloved church. I have to believe that having watched Pope John Paul II in decline must have played a role in this decision.
Whatever the future should bring to this great man of the church, he is certainly in the prayers of the faithful congregation.