Pope Benedict XVI ends his ministry today as spiritual leader of millions of Catholics around the world, becoming the first pope to resign in the last six centuries. After a nearly eight year papacy, Benedict XVI will officially cease being the Bishop of Rome at 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT), when the Holy See vacancy begins, a period that starts from the resignation or death of a pontiff and continues until the election of his successor.
“I do not neglect the cross, but will remain in a new way for the Crucified Lord; I remain in the service of prayer,” Benedict said last evening before more than 150,000 parishioners gathered in St. Peter’s Square to attend his last public audience.
On February 11, the Vicar of Christ announced that he could no longer bear the physical burden related to management of the Holy See and expressed his willingness to resign from his papacy that began in April 2005.
In the afternoon, at 16:55 local time (15:55 GMT) in San Damacio courtyard he will receive the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, for the last time, and then will leave by helicopter for Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the popes.
Shortly before announcing his resignation today, Benedict XVI said goodbye to the cardinals present at the Vatican.
The 85 year old pope spoke in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace with the cardinals who traveled to the capital to attend to the conclave of 117 prelates in the next few days, responsible for electing a new head of the Catholic Church.