Following his shocking announcement to resign, Pope Benedict XVI held his last public Mass at the Vatican on Wednesday, saying in his homily that he was stepping down as pontiff "for the good of the church."
Benedict, who became pope in 2005, is the oldest "new" pope to take up the position as head of the Catholic Church. But it is belived that over the last couple of months or so, the 85-year-old pope had been considering to step down, citing poor health, which both his doctors and the Vatican confirmed to be deteriorating. The pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, revealed that his brother had been advised by doctors not to make anymore transatlantic flights, adding that he was having trouble walking. The Vatican yesterday revealed that the pope used a pacemaker and recently had it replaced. With his failing health, the pope’s decision is a landmark one as the resignation is the first in 600 years.
Today, at St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope presided over his last public Mass, held to commemorate Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The Mass was attended by cardinals, bishops, monks, friars and pilgrims, who were anointed on the head with ash by the pope. Speaking at the Mass, the pontiff said, “Thank you for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me. ... Keep praying for me, for the Church and for the future pope," adding that, "I did this in full liberty for the good of the church."
The service was originally scheduled to be held at Sant' Anselmo church but because of the large numbers of people, the Mass was then held at St. Peter’s. The pope is expected to step down on Feb. 28.
The selection of a new pope will be the burning question for the next six weeks, as the Vatican announced that a new pope will be chosen before Easter, which will mark the end of Lent. At present there are eight candidates belonging to different parts of the world, and according to sources, the behind-the-scenes battle for the next pontiff has already begun but it is unlikely that a clear picture will emerge at the present time.
Of course, while Pope Benedict XVI will not be involved in the selection of his successor, he will try to ensure that there is a smooth change of power.
After his resignation, the Pope will be retiring to a nunnery within Vatican City.