VATICAN CITY: Benedict XVI has become the first pope to resign in over 700 years, telling a tearful crowd of faithful that he will now be ‘a simple pilgrim’ as cardinals yesterday begin preparing for a conclave in the Sistine Chapel to elect his successor.
The final day of Benedict’s reign on Thursday was filled with emotion, with liveried Swiss Guards shutting the doors of his new temporary residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome to mark the moment.
The Vatican flag flying over the palace was lowered as the Swiss Guards – the papacy’s military corps since the 15th century – formally completed their mission to protect the pope..
‘Long live the pope!’ a crowd outside chanted as a clock chimed 8pm – the hour that Benedict said he would step down in an announcement earlier this month that stunned the world.
“I will no longer be pope but a simple pilgrim,” the pope told supporters earlier after arriving at Castel Gandolfo from the Vatican in a helicopter that flew as the bells of St Peter’s rang out.
The former pope Benedict will now be known as ‘Roman pontiff emeritus’ – a completely new title created especially for this unprecedented situation in the Church’s history since the Middle Ages. He will still be addressed as ‘Your Holiness’.
In a last tweet sent from his #pontifex Twitter account as he left the Vatican, the pope said: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
Benedict is only the second pope to resign in the Church’s 2,000-year history, and in his final hours as pontiff he took
the unprecedented step of pledging allegiance to his successor.
“Among you there is also the future pope to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence,” the pope said in final remarks to 144 cardinals in the ornate Clementine Hall in the Vatican.
“Let the Lord reveal the one he has chosen,” said the pope, as the cardinals doffed their red berettas and lined up to kiss the papal ring.
“We have experienced, with faith, beautiful moments of radiant light together, as well as times with a few clouds in the sky,” he said. — AFP