The Pope left the Vatican in a motorcade before boarding a helicopter to the papal retreat yesterday. Pope Benedict XVI officially resigned, saying that he now “will simply be a pilgrim” starting his last journey on earth.
The pontiff, aged 86, was earlier flown by helicopter from the Vatican to his retreat at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome. His deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is now in charge of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics until a new pope is elected next month. Benedict vowed “unconditional obedience and reverence” to his successor.
He is the first pontiff in 600 years to step down, citing his frail health. Benedict officially ceased to be the Pope at 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT) The resignation was marked by the papal Swiss Guards stepping down from their posts at Castel Gandolfo to return to the Vatican.
In his retirement, Benedict will wear a simple white cassock rather than his papal clothes, and swap his famous red shoes – the colour is symbolic of the blood of the early Christian martyrs – for brown. His “Fisherman’s Ring”, the special signet ring which contains the Pope’s name and is impressed to validate certain official documents, is expected to be destroyed along with the lead seal of the pontificate.
The German pontiff, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, will continue to be known as Benedict XVI, with the new title of “pope emeritus”. The long-time theologian is expected eventually to retire to a monastery on a hill inside Vatican City, with officials saying he will not be able to intervene publicly in the papacy of his successor, though he may offer advice. Earlier yesterday, church bells rang across the Vatican as Benedict boarded the helicopter for a short flight to Castel Gandolfo Before that, the pontiff was greeted for the last time by top officials in the Curia – the administrative body that runs the Holy See. Benedict then appeared at a window overlooking the public square in Castel Gandolfo to bless a cheering crowd.
“Thank you very much for your friendship,” Benedict said.
“I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth. “Let’s go forward with God for the good of the Church and the world.” Some in the crowd were in tears listening to what could be Benedict’s final public words as pope.
“What a joy to see him, but how sad to think it is for the last time,” local resident Giuseppina was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
In his final tweet, Benedict wrote: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives”.
The Vatican now enters the Sede Vacante – or period of transition between two pontificates.