By BEN AGANDE, Yamoussokro, Ivory Coast
EMOTIONS and applauds were on displays yesterday as Pope Benedict XVI made final general appearance to 150,000 people who gathered at the St. Peter’s Square, to say “Grazie!” – “Thank you.” to the crowd toting banners with the same inscription.
Today is the final day of his eight year Papacy which took a dramatic turn when he announced two weeks ago that he would step down by the end of the month. He will meet with 115 cardinals this morning for a final time. The focus of the meeting will be on the election of a new pope.
Most of the cardinals from around the world will meet with Pope Benedict XVI, before he flies out with helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI will stay at Castel Gandolfo for about two weeks, while his apartment inside Vatican City is set up. The apartment is believed to be in a monastery.
With chants of “Benedetto!” erupting from the crowd, the mood was far more buoyant than during the Pope’s final Sunday blessing. Pope Benedict had said he decided to retire after realising that, at 85, he simply didn’t have the “strength of mind or body” to carry on.
Pope Benedict who becomes the Bishop of Rome Emeritus from today thanked the people for respecting his decision to resign on grounds of failing strength and ailing health, but more important, reminding them that “it was time for a younger man to lead the Catholic Church into the future.
“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 said to thundering applause.
Reports said Pope Benedict clearly enjoyed the crowds, as he took a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen children handed to him by his secretary.
The outgoing Pope said he “never felt alone on the job but It was a great burden that God placed on his shoulders as a Pope.”
According to him when he was elected Pope on April 19, 2005, he questioned if God truly wanted it. “‘It’s a great burden that you’ve placed on my shoulders,’”
He thanked his cardinals and colleagues for their guidance and for “understanding and respecting this important decision.”.
He recalled the joy and the light of his papacy and said that he saw a church that was alive.
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.
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.