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.
Tomorrow marks the final day of this eight year, transitional pontificate.
In the evening, Benedict will climb onto a helicopter and fly out to the papal summer residence of Castelgandolfo, which will be his temporary home until the renovation work at his new convent home within the Vatican is ready.
In keeping with Benedict’s low profile media presence, there will be no particular ceremony to symbolically mark the moment when he makes the transition from Roman Pontiff to Roman Pontiff Emeritus.
Asked what Benedict would do tomorrow night, papal spokesman Father Lombardi last week commented: “I imagine he will have his supper, say a prayer and go to bed.”
End of Pontificate.
What next for the Pope?
The Vatican has said that the pope, who will move to the papal summer residence south of Rome tomorrow night when the papacy becomes vacant, will assume the title of "pope emeritus" and be addressed as "your holiness".
He will lay aside the red "shoes of the fisherman" that have been part of his papal attire and wear brown loafers given to him by shoemakers during a trip to Leon, Mexico last year. He will wear a "simple white cassock", Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said.
His lead seal and his ring of office, known as the "ring of the fisherman", will be destroyed according to Church rules, just as if he had died.
The Vatican said yesterday the pope was sifting through documents to see which will remain in the Vatican and go into the archives of his papacy and which "are of a personal nature and he will take to his new residence".
Among the documents left for the next pope will be a confidential report by three cardinals into the "Vatileaks" affair last year when Benedict's former butler revealed private papers showing corruption and in-fighting inside the Vatican.
Tomorrow, he will greet cardinals in Rome, many of whom have come to take part in the conclave to elect his successor. He will fly by helicopter to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, a 15-minute journey south of Rome. There he will make an appearance from the window of the papal villa to greet residents and well-wishers expected to gather in the small square.
That will be Pope Benedict's last public appearance.
At 8pm the Swiss Guards who stand as sentries at the residence will march off in a sign that the papacy is vacant.
Benedict will move into a convent in the Vatican in April, after it has been restored.
On Friday, cardinals in Rome will begin meetings known as "general congregations" to prepare for the secret conclave that will elect a new pope.