In an emotional goodbye to 100,000 supporters, the Pope revealed on Sunday that he was stepping aside because God told him to do so.
In a voice raw with emotion, Benedict XVI told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square that he was resigning on February 28 because God had called on him to devote himself to prayer. He said God had told him ‘to climb the mountain’.
Mail Online reports that pilgrims filled the piazza to witness a historical moment and thank the Pope for his eight year Pontificate at the Angelus Prayer, his penultimate public appearance as the Pontiff.
Despite recently looking tired and frail, he spoke in a clear, strong voice, repeatedly thanking the faithful for their closeness and affection as they interrupted him, again and again, with applause and cheers. Police estimated some 100,000 people turned out.
Benedict insisted he was “not abandoning the church.” Instead, speaking in Italian, he said he would serve the church with the same dedication he had until now, but would do so “in a way more suitable to my age and my strength”.
He also said he would continue to serve through meditation and prayer after his historic abdication.
He completed the last Angelus of his tenure by saying he would always be close to the Church and its people.
A child in the crowd held up a sign on a yellow placard, written in Italian, ‘You are not alone, I’m with you’. Other admirers held signs simply saying ‘Thank you’.
Heavy rain had been forecast for Rome, and some drizzle dampened the square earlier in the morning, but when Benedict appeared, to the peal of church bells as the clock struck noon, blue sky crept through the clouds.
‘We thank God for the sun he has given us,’ the Pope said.
The 85-year-old will spend his last years in seclusion in a cloistered monastery within the confines of Vatican City.
The Pope officially steps down on Thursday. He resigned two weeks ago, saying he no longer had the mental or physical strength to lead the world’s 1.2bn Catholics. It is the first time a Pope has stepped down in 600 years.
Vatican-watchers have speculated that his declining health is a key factor.
It has subsequently emerged that the Pope had had a secret heart operation to replace a pace-maker three months ago.