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Benedict says goodbye to 150,000

Pope emphasizes reasons for resigning in farewell speech

Crowds swarm around the Popemobile in St Peter's Square Crowds swarm around the Popemobile in St Peter's Square
  • Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
  • Vatican City
  • February 28, 2013
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An emotional crowd of more than 150,000 people greeted Pope Benedict XVI for his last public outing before his resignation on Thursday.

Benedict addressed a packed St Peter’s Square in a strong and clear voice, which made a stark contrast to the increasingly weak and frail figure that appeared in public ahead of his shock resignation announcement on February 11.

In his address, delivered in Italian, the pontiff forcefully defended his choice to resign, saying he was fully aware of “its severity and also its novelty,” but stressed that he had undertaken this step “with a deep peace of mind.”

Benedict is the first pope to resign in 600 years.

Indirectly responding to critics, even within the Catholic Church, who have questioned his move in the past two weeks, Benedict restated that a pope’s commitment to his role is “forever.”

For a pope, even after resignation, “there is no returning to private life,” he said.

“My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross.”

Even if on Thursday he will “no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church,” Benedict said he would continue serving the Church through prayer, thus remaining, “so to speak, within St Peter’s bounds.”

On Monday, the Vatican announced that after resignation Benedict will assume the title of “Roman Pontiff Emeritus” or “Pope Emeritus,” and he will continue to wear white clerical garb as popes do, even if without papal insignia.

In his address, Benedict also looked back at his troubled pontificate, admitting that together with “many moments of joy and light” there have been “times when the seas were rough and the wind against us.”

“I have not ever felt myself alone in bearing either the joys or the weight of the Petrine ministry,” in an apparent rebuke of press reports that he was isolated inside the Vatican and that contributed to his decision to resign.

Instead, Benedict emphatically thanked the Roman Curia and the Vatican Secretariat of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, whose management of Vatican bureaucracy has often been suspected of being the cause of the shortcomings of Benedict’s pontificate.

Wednesday’s speech was preceded by a slow drive-through in St Peter’s Square on his “popemobile,” which gave Benedict his last opportunity to bid farewell to Catholic crowds.

For once, gestures that are part of the basic tasks of a pope but that he had never seemed to embrace – such as saluting the crowds from behind the bulletproof glass of his vehicle or kissing babies – seemed to come to him naturally and with gusto.

In the square, Catholic groups and single believers held up placards expressing their appreciation for Benedict.

“Even if I don’t understand Italian, I feel lucky to be here at this historic moment,” said Mary, a Chinese tourist who happened to be in Rome for the pope’s final event.

She confessed to being surprised that a man “chose to climb down from such a high place and humbled himself.”

“He hasn’t abandoned us, he will accompany us with his prayers,” said Giuseppe, a Chinese language student in Rome.

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