For the first time in history, a pope left the papacy with a farewell party — amid music, chants and a giant crowd calling his name.
At least 150,000 people flocked to St. Peter’s early this morning to say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI on the last public appearance of his eight-year papacy.
By 10:30 a.m. local time, all was celebration already. People waved flags and banners saying “Thank you” and erupted in a long applause and chanted “Benedetto, Benedetto” as the 85-year-old pontiff, dressed in white, emerged, driven around in the popemobile in the sun basked square.
“I am moved. When I see you, I see the Church is alive. And we must thank our creator, for this beautiful weather,” Benedict said as he approached the platform to give an emotional and personal final address.
On the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics — the first pope to do that in six centuries — Benedict recalled moments of “joy and light” during his papacy but also hard times in which he had to sail “turbulent seas and rough winds.”
“The Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I’ve always known that he was in that boat, that the boat was not mine or ours, but was his and he will not let it founder,” Benedict said.
He then thanked his cardinals and colleagues for “understanding and respecting” his decision to resign.
“In these past months I felt my strength of mind or body was diminishing…To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself,” Benedict XVI said.
Tomorrow he will be the first pope to leave the papacy by helicopter. At 8 p.m., the doors of the Vatican palace will close and the Swiss Guards who protect the head of the Catholic Church will go off duty.
Benedict will stay at the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, for about two months before moving to his new home, a former nunnery near the Vatican gardens.
“I won’t have a life of travels, meetings, receptions, conferences, etc. I’m not returning to private life. I remain, so to speak, in the fencing of St Peter’s, in the service of prayer, ” Benedict said.
He will still be addressed as “his holiness,” keeping the name Benedict XVI. He will be known as the Roman pontiff emeritus or pope emeritus.
“It’s something that he decided in consultation with other people, but the pope was the main person to make this decision,” the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said.
Benedict will continue to wear the white papal cassock, but without the elbow-length cape, called mozzetta.
And he will no longer wear his trademark Prada red shoes, opting instead for a pair of hand-crafted brown loafers given to him by artisans in León, Mexico during a visit last year.
Lombardi confirmed that the chunky “Fisherman’s Ring” worn by Benedict XVI will be destroyed, following Vatican tradition.
Depicting Saint Peter pulling up his net from a boat, the ring recalled the time when pontiffs used such jewels to put their official wax seals on documents. At a pope’s death, the ring is destroyed with a hammer or melted or scratched, so that no fake documents may be made in the pope’s name.
Benedict XVI was the first pope since the 19th century to commission a Fisherman’s Ring.
At the end of the emotional ceremony, the soon-to-be former pontiff sent a message to his successor, saying that whoever succeeds him “no longer has any privacy.”
“He no longer belongs to himself, instead he belongs to everyone, everywhere,” he said.