Pope Benedict XVI delivers a personal final farewell to thousands of people on Wednesday and alludes to the Church’s troubles, saying at times it felt like “God was sleeping”.
Speaking to an estimated 150,000 people in his final weekly address at St Peter’s Basilica, he recalled moments of “joy and light” during his eight-year papacy, but also reflected on difficult times for the Church.
“I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy … moments of turbulent seas and rough winds, as has occurred in the history of the church when it seemed like the Lord was sleeping”.
To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult and anguished choices – Pope Benedict XVI
Under his papacy, Benedict has been hit by a widespread scandal over the abuse of children by Catholic priests. Recently he had to deal with the ‘Vati-leaks’ scandal, in which his butler was convicted of leaking Vatican documents that revealed details of clandestine power struggles within the Church’s hierarchy.
Benedict appeared to bask in the emotional send-off, taking a long tour of the square in his ‘pope-mobile’, the bullet-proof sides of the car opened so he could kiss and bless several babies.
Explaining why he had decided to resign, thus become the first Pope to do so in 600 years, he said he did not have the “strength of mind or body” to continue in the position.
“I took this step in the full knowledge of its gravity and rarity but with a profound serenity of spirit,” he said. “To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult and anguished choices, always having in mind the good of the church and not oneself.”
The Vatican has said that Benedict, who be flown by helicopter to the papal summer residence south of Rome on Thursday 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”, Lombardi said.
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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. 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.
The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected by mid-March and installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.
Cardinals have begun informal consultations by phone and email in the past two weeks since Benedict said he was quitting.