Benedict's papacy ends with simple farewell
Pope Benedict XVI leaves the balcony at Castel Gandolfo after his last address as pontiff. photograph: christopher furlong
Pope Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus, remained true to his nature right to the last moments of his pontificate. As the bells in Castel Gandolfo rang out and the faithful in the square applauded and chanted “Ben-Eh-Detto”, he stood on the balcony of the pontifical palace for his last address as pope.
“Thanks for your affection,” he said. “As you know, this is a different day for me. I am only a pilgrim starting out on the last stage of his journey here on Earth . . . but I will continue to work for the good of the church and the world. Grazie e buonanotte.”
Out of sight
And with those few words, he offered his apostolic blessing and immediately turned back into the palace and went out of sight. Not for the first time in these past two strange weeks, Pope Benedict appeared not even slightly tempted to stop for a second and milk the applause. That has never been his style.
Even as he left the Vatican to make his 15-minute helicopter journey to the papal summer residence where he will live for at least the next two months before returning to the Vatican, he maintained his self-control. As the bells of St Peter’s rang out and as the entire apostolic household, complete with a guard of honour from the Swiss guards, gathered in the San Damaso courtyard, there were tears in many eyes but not in those of Pope Benedict.
Earlier, the pontiff had made a significant statement during a meeting with 145 cardinals, including cardinals Seán Brady and Desmond Connell. Looking out at a gathering in the Sala Clementina, he promised his successor “unconditional reverence and obedience”.
This was an obvious, if unexpected, move, clearly intended to dispel any notion that he could become a problem for his successor. Catholic Church history has always indicated that to have two popes living in the Vatican does not necessarily augur well. Do not worry, he was saying, there will be no schism because of me.
As of this morning the church is in the caretaker administrative hands of two senior cardinals, Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano.
Their initial task today will be to convene a congregation of cardinals, probably for next Monday. First item on the agenda will be the timing of the conclave. Thanks to a decree from Pope Benedict this week, the cardinals can, if they wish, bring forward the conclave, currently scheduled to start on March 15th or 16th. They may opt for March 10th instead.
The fun is about to begin.