No fanfare at final papal address
Pope Benedict XVI waves to an audience in Saint Peter's square, at the Vatican in a file photograph from last October. Photograph: Reuters
The atmosphere in a packed St. Peter's Square this morning was strangely sober as more than 100,000 pilgrims gathered to hear the last Sunday Angelus prayer of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.
There were no fanfares and no sustained ovations for Benedict, but rather a strong sense of sympathy and solidarity for the Pope, who is due to officially step down from the Seat of Peter on Thursday of this week.
The 85-year-old Pope himself conceded that this was a very special moment, "at this point in my life".
Not for the first time in this strange pre-Resignation period, Benedict again suggested that he was resigning because of his age and diminishing strength, saying: "The good Lord has called me to "climb unto the Mount", to dedicate myself ever more to prayer and meditation. This does not mean abandoning the Church, rather if God has asked this of me, it is so that I can continue to serve Him with the same dedication and love as I have done until now, but perhaps in a way more suited to my age and my physical strengths."
At several points during his homily, the pilgrims interrupted the Pope with a round of applause. However, as is his style, Benedict played little attention to the short-lived applause but rather continued with his homily.
Even when he had finished in his multi-lingual greetings in French, English, German, Spanish and Polish, the Pope made no attempt to linger over the moment. Rather than milking the applause, he quickly turned away from his pontifical apartment window and disappeared out of sight.
Today was not Benedict's last appearance in St. Peter's Square since he will hold his last public audience in the square on Wednesday, when a 150,000 strong crowd is expected to turn out to greet him.