Benedict delivers final public liturgy of papacy


Pope Benedict XVI will meet priests of the diocese of Rome in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall this morning in yet another final act of his papacy. As Bishop of Rome it is traditional for the Pope to meet priests of the diocese on the day after Ash Wednesday.

Last night at the Ash Wednesday Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, his last public liturgy, he called for an end to division in the Church and to religious hypocrisy. In his final general audience yesterday morning he said he had decided to resign the papacy “for the good of the Church”. Pope Benedict goes on retreat next week so there will be no general audience next Wednesday. The final event of his pontificate will take place in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, February 27th. What it will be is not yet clear.

Prolonged applause

Last night he was greeted by prolonged applause from a capacity crowd in St Peter’s Basilica. The Ash Wednesday Mass had been moved there from its traditional setting at the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill to accommodate the large number of clergy and lay people who wanted to take part in the final public liturgy of Benedict’s papacy.

He was wheeled up the aisle on a special platform, followed by as many as 91 cardinals. During the Mass he began the last public homily of his pontificate by thanking the people present, particularly those from Rome diocese, for their support and prayers during his ministry.

He warned of sins against the unity of the church and said that being in communion with one another during Lent would be an example “to those who have distanced themselves from the faith or who are indifferent” to it.

He also recalled how Jesus denounced “religious hypocrisy, which sought applause and approval. The true disciple does not serve himself or the ‘public’ but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity,” he said.

At the end of the Mass he was given a prolonged standing ovation. The applause continued as he left St Peter’s.

Yesterday morning he was similarly greeted by an international audience of an estimated 6,000 people in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall. Speaking there, he made direct reference to his announcement last Monday that he is to resign on February 28th next.

He said: “As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on April 19th, 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realising that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands.”

He continued: “I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.”

Cardinal Law

A prominent participant at both the general audience yesterday morning and the Mass in St Peter’s last night was former Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in 2002 over his mishandling of clerical child sex abuse allegations there.