THOUSANDS of Catholics have bid an emotional farewell to the Pope, at two of his final public appearances.
Benedict, seen by the public for the first time since announcing his resignation, looked tired but healthy as he began his General Audience in a big Vatican audience hall.
He was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation, and then sat and read a speech to the audience. He began with his reasons for resigning – the same he gave to a meeting of cardinals on Monday.
“I have (decided to resign) for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience … realising that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands,” he said.
He thanked the faithful for their support since his announcement, saying “In these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers.”
His talk focused on the beginning of Lent, and followed a theme of the tests of faith that a modern Christian is confronted with. He reiterated that it was the duty of a Christian to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and “the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases”.
The Vatican has said Benedict will play no part in the selection of the next pontiff, however his words will be closely scrutinised as cardinals begin discussions on the church's next step.
At a briefing yesterday, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said Benedict would hold a farewell audience with the College of Cardinals – who will choose his successor – on the morning of his resignation on February 28th.
According to reports in Italian newspapers, he will then leave the Vatican by helicopter for Castel Gandolfo, the Papal home in the hills outside Rome, as a temporary home before he moves into a convent in the Vatican that is being renovated for the purpose.
Yesterday evening, Benedict held what is believed to be his final public liturgy – a mass in St Peter's Basilica.
He invited the congregation to “pray for the path of the Church going forward at this particular point in time”.
He also thanked everyone and asked for “a special remembrance in your prayer”.
The Pope will hold a final audience in St Peter's Square on February 27, but there is not any scheduled official farewell.