Under a bright sky Wednesday,XVI held his last general audience in St Peter’s Square. Members of his “flock” came out in force to say goodbye to their pope and wish him well before he disappears into relative obscurity. Fifty-thousand tickets were requested for the papal general-audience, but it is estimated that up to 200,000 people attended.
Early this morning, the sight of nuns running into the square to make sure they got a good vantage point made peculiar viewing. It illustrates once again that popes, cardinals, nuns and the like, are all only human.
Holding such an event outdoors is unusual in Italy in late February but the heavens were kind. Blue skies and sunshine held, easing the chill in the air. Currently, the Roman Catholic Church is feeling a chill in more ways than one. The unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict leaves the church vulnerable at one of its toughest times in history.
The familiar white pope-mobile carried the frail looking pope through the crowds, a sea of smiling faces and cheering voices. The mood of the day was upbeat, rather than sad. People have had time to get used to the idea of a new pope and look set to embrace change.
Pope Benedict addressed the huge crowd in a farewell speech. According to SkyNews, he drew on a Biblical analogy, saying: "The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds."
But, he added, God would not let the church sink.
On Thursday, the 85-year-old pontiff will travel by helicopter to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles (24km) southeast of Rome. He will cease to be pope at 8 p.m. local time, reports the BBC.
“Pope Benedict will be known as "pope emeritus" and retain the honorific "His Holiness" after his abdication. He will also continue to be known by his papal title of Benedict XVI, rather than reverting to Joseph Ratzinger. He will wear his distinctive white cassock without any cape or trimmings. He will surrender his gold ring of office, known as the fisherman's ring, and his personal seal will be destroyed in the same way as when a pope dies. Benedict will also give up wearing his specially-made red leather loafers, instead wearing brown shoes hand-made for him by a craftsman during a brief visit to Mexico last year,” the Vatican said.
The BBC has the timeline for events as:
As the first papal resignation for around 600 years, Benedict caught his team on the hop. Many who worked close to the Pope still maintain they have no idea why he decided to resign. Sunday, the Pope said that God told him to resign, and the faithful should not deride that.
Pope Benedict looked small and feeble today; that is, his body did. The inner man managed to shine through with some warmth and vibrancy. His appearance though is a reminder that this pope was elderly when he was elected, and many only ever viewed him as a temporary option rather than a leader destined for a long future, such as Pope John Paul II.
Benedict has been head of the Holy Roman Catholic church during tough times in the Vatican and around the world. The Pope has been the brunt of allegations against the Catholic church as an institution. Many of the allegations date back to a time preceding this pope. He may hold the top job in the church but Catholicism is a huge business with a great deal of wealth and administration. While it may be right that he is held to account for personal bad decisions, is it right he takes on the burden of blame alone?
Powerful cardinals are now jockeying for a position in the race to be elected the next pope. If you look at it realistically, any spiritual aura is quickly removed. It is big business covered up with a religious overcoat.
Once Benedict is out of the picture, the Vatican will be a hive of activity as cardinals elect his successor and prepare for his inauguration.
We will all eagerly watch the events as they unfold.