Pope recalls times of joy and difficulty in his final address
A general view of a packed St Peter's Square where Pope Benedict XVI is holding his last general audience today. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters.
It was all so obviously and utterly historic and yet it was a case of business - of the spiritual nature - as usual, writes PADDY AGNEW in the Vatican
Pope Benedict XVI’s last public audience, the last occasion when he will deliver a prepared speech to the world, passed off this morning in St Peter’s in a manner that was typical of his pontificate.
As at his last Sunday Angelus address three days ago, this was a sober occasion, marked by the strong sense of solidarity towards Benedict from the 100,000 plus crowd.
There were no fanfares, no bombastic moments just the usual public audience routine, prefaced by a popemobile tour of the square which provided the only moment of real excitement for the faithful as people rushed to get as close as possible to Benedict.
Chants of “Viva Il Papa” and “Ben-Eh-Detto” (Benedict) rang out around the square as the Pope did a thorough tour, travelling up and down the Vatican’s railed pathways.
Up close, Benedict looked well, perhaps even a little less tired than on recent public appearances. Clearly, the idea of imminent resignation does not trouble him.
When Benedict began to speak, it immediately became clear this audience would, after all, contain one significant difference.
For once, he did not preach a sermon based on a quotation from the bible.
This time, he talked frankly about himself thanking “all of you who have turned up in such numbers for my last public audience”.
More importantly, Pope Benedict appeared to defend his decision to resign, when saying that the Pope has no “privacy” rather he belongs “always” to the Church.
“That always is really forever, there is no return to the private,” he said. “My decision to renounce the active exercise of my ministry does not change this. There will be no return to the private life, no travels, no meetings, no receptions or conferences etc.
“However this does not mean that I am stepping down off the cross, rather in a new way I remain with the Crucified Lord. I no longer hold the office of the government of the Church but in my service of prayer I remain within the bosom of St. Peter.”
Earlier, Benedict had said that his pontificate had been marked by times of mild, sunny weather and times of tempests. He had sometimes felt like St Peter fishing with the Apostles in the sea of Galilee, buffeted by the winds and in stormy waters.
However, he always knew that the Lord was with him on the boat and that he would not let it sink. The message was clear: he might be resigning but the Church is in no danger of running aground without him.