Pope Benedict XVI's last moments as pontiff were filled with emotion during a poignant and historic day for the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church.
'LONG LIVE THE POPE!'
Benedict XVI was on the balcony at Castel Gandolfo for a little over a minute, speaking his last public words as pope.
"I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his journey," the 85-year-old told the crowd, wearing only a white robe in the chilly evening air.
They shouted back, "Long live the pope!"
"Thank you! Good night!" Benedict replied before going back inside the palace.
A few minutes later, aides came out on the balcony, pulled off the papal banner, rolled it up and brought it inside the palace. The glass doors to the balcony were quickly clicked shut and the white curtains behind them tightly drawn.
Within seconds, the crowd of a few thousand in the piazza dwindled to a few hundred.
— Frances D'Emilio
Benedict XVI's elder brother says his final day as pontiff Thursday is more of a private matter than his big send-off.
Monsignor Georg Ratzinger told Germany's RTL television at his home in Regensburg, Germany, that Wednesday's farewell in St. Peter's Square was "the most important day for me." He says it was Benedict XVI's last encounter with the faithful, "and with that, the essential has actually already happened."
He said: "Today is more private, a sort of an accessory matter, at least according to my point of view."
Georg Ratzinger, who is 89, was ordained on the same day in 1951 as his brother, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
— Geir Moulson
AFP Photo: Vincenzo Pinto . Faithful gather for a last farewell to Pope Benedict XVI upon his arrival in Castel Gandolfo. IMAGE
REUTERS: Stefano Rellandini . Pope's final day: The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome Thursday. IMAGE
Benedict XVI leaves the Vatican for the last time as pope, flying by helicopter to the papal retreat before becoming the first pontiff to resign in 600 years
The helicopter is circling over St. Peter's Square before heading to Castel Gandolfo, where he will make his final appearance as pope. Spectators around the helipad are hanging out signs that read, "Thank you."
As his closest aide wept by his side, Benedict bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a corps of Swiss Guards standing by at attention.
Benedict traveled by car to the helipad on the top of the hill of the Vatican gardens and boarded a helicopter along with his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, for the 15-minute trip to Castel Gandolfo. Bells tolled as the helicopter took off — and are tolling still.
SAYING THE ROSARY
The crowd at Castel Gandolfo is reciting the rosary, led by a woman using a loudspeaker in the final hours before the pope arrives.
As soon as sun started going down, the air in the town quickly changed from springlike to chilly. Some of the faithful have ducked inside a cafe to warm themselves as they pray.
Children are running and shrieking on the edges of the square, happy to play as their parents keep on praying.
— Frances D'Emilio
The pope has greeted his staff for the last time and is heading in a motorcade for the helicopter that will take him to Castel Gandolfo.
The Swiss Guards are marching in step inside the San Damaso courtyard inside the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, preparing Pope Benedict XVI's send-off.
Members of the Vatican bureaucracy, or Curia, have poured into the courtyard to witness the historic moment of Benedict's final departure from the Vatican as pope.
He will travel by car to the Vatican's helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens, and then will fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo.
— Nicole Winfield
Italians often show up for events at the last minute, and the gathering to say farewell to Pope Benedict XVI in the main square of Castel Gandolfo was no exception.
As the clock struck 4:15 p.m., the crowd of a few hundred seemed to swell almost at once to a few thousand well-wishers packing the tiny, rectangular square.
Yellow-and-white paper pennants in Vatican colors were selling briskly at $1.50 apiece as the town awaited the pope's arrival in about an hour.
— Frances D'Emilio
QUICK QUOTE: FAN
Anna Maria Togni and her friend walked one mile from the outskirts of Castel Gandolfo to witness history today as Pope Benedict XVI retires. Licking a gelato of hazelnut and nougat, Togni said she "felt lucky."
"We have the pope right here at home," she said.
"We feel a tenderness toward him. I think they made him leave," she said of Benedict.
The pope is expected to make his final departure from the palace for the last time shortly before 5 p.m. and fly by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
— Frances D'Emilio
AP Photo: Gregorio Borgia. Pope's final day: A Vatican usher closes the main gate of the pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. IMAGE
WRITTEN IN STONE
Benedict is on permanent record as a fan of Castel Gandolfo.
A plaque on the main square in his name praises his view of the lake and "the good people" of the town of 8,500. Three hours before his arrival by helicopter, some 100 of them were awaiting him in the little cobblestone square outside the brown wooden doors of the residence where he will stay once his papacy ends.
A greeting was spelled out in silver letter-shaped balloons: "Thanks. Benedict, all of us are with you." It was strung up between the second and third floors of an apartment building whose ground floor is home to the town's tiny post office and across the square from a coffee bar — where locals were sipping espresso to get a caffeine jolt for the wait.
— Frances D'Emilio
LAST PAPAL TWEET
Update for the Twitter world:
The Vatican says retiring Pope Benedict XVI will send his last tweet as pope around 5 p.m. Rome time (11 a.m. EST). That's also about the time he's set to leave the Vatican by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pope's Twitter handle @Pontifex will then be "in abeyance" until the next pontiff is selected. He says it'll be up to the next leader of the Catholic Church as to whether he will use it.
— Joji Sakurai
This is from the Philippines, an Asian nation where more than 75 million people in the population of 94 million are Roman Catholic:
Romeo Mercardo, a 45-year-old tricycle driver in front of Manila's Santa Ana Church, says he's saddened by Pope Benedict's resignation. "I think he ran the church well. From what I see even here in our parish, you can see a lot of people going to Mass. People would go to church as early as Saturday, and on Sundays the church is packed," Mercardo says.
The historic church dating back to the Spanish colonial era held no special Masses today for Benedict, but many Filipinos followed the news from the Vatican on the radio and TV.
—Eden Mendez, 23, a saleswoman in a clothing store: "It's sad that he has to go. I hope whoever will replace him will also work like him. He did well for the church."
—Fortunato Vendivel, a professor at Philippine Normal University: "My wish for him is to get well because he looks really ill, and I think he badly needs to rest."
— Teresa Cerojano
SWISS GUARDS TO GET A REST
The pope's retirement means his famous Swiss Guards get a few days off before they have to protect the new guy.
Stern-faced and standing as erect as the halberds they grasp, Swiss Guards rarely betray emotion on duty. But their storied history has its early roots in a bloody drama.
Nearly five centuries ago, 147 Swiss Guards died while protecting Pope Clement VII in his frantic dash to safety when Emperor Charles V's soldiers sacked Rome.
A few decades earlier, the Renaissance pope Julius II had asked Switzerland to supply the Vatican with soldiers because he was so impressed by the courage of Swiss mercenaries.
The Swiss Guards will go off-duty Thursday evening at 8 — the exact moment when the man they serve, Pope Benedict XVI, resigns.
— Frances D'Emilio
IN THE 15TH CENTURY
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to end the Great Western Schism, a nearly 40-year split over leadership of Christendom. The disagreement was a major political struggle, since the Church played a central role in politics, art and daily life in much of Europe, which was slowly transitioning into the Renaissance.
During that era:
— Heretics were burned at the stake, including Bohemian-born Jan Hus, a priest considered an inspiration for the Protestant Reformation, in 1415. Joan of Arc, who fought for France in the Hundred Years War against England, died at the stake in 1431.
— The Medicis were building the banking empire that would turn them into a political dynasty, make them influential art benefactors and eventually produce four popes, the first in 1513.
— Early Renaissance artists like Donatello were playing with perspective in sculptures of saints that adorned his country's ornate churches.
— Matt Surman
QUICK QUOTE: CARDINAL PELL
Australia's Cardinal George Pell, one of those who will be voting for the next pope, is speaking in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's retirement:
"He was well aware that this was a break with tradition, slightly destabilizing. But he felt that because of his weakness and sickness, which was only too evident today, that he just didn't have the strength to lead in church in these demanding times."
— Victor Simpson, AP's Rome bureau chief, who has covered the Vatican for decades
AP Photo: Gregorio Borgia. Pope's final day: After retiring, Benedict XVI will be spending time in the garden of the summer residence of Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. IMAGE
POPE EYES GARDEN WALKS
Everyone looks forward to retirement for one reason or another. In Pope Benedict XVI's case, it might be having more time for walks.
Benedict took daily strolls through Vatican City's gardens. Now, awaiting his first months in retirement at Castel Gandolfo is a splendid expanse of manicured lawn, dotted by geometrically shaped bushes, for his afternoon walks.
The Holy See got a good deal on the castle and its grounds. It was acquired in the late 1500s in return for an unpaid debt owed by Italian nobles. But the estate didn't always appear so beautiful. For years, it was almost abandoned after the fall of the Papal State in 1870, as modern Italy took shape.
— Frances D'Emilio
One-hundred and fifteen cardinals will be voting in the next few weeks to choose Pope Benedict's XVI successor. Should they return the papacy to an Italian, stick with a pontiff from elsewhere in Europe or follow the trends in the church and look to Africa or across the Atlantic? Here's a look at some possible contenders:
— Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan
— Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna
— Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of Vatican's culture office
— Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana, head of the Vatican's justice and peace office
From Latin America:
— Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paulo
— Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina
— Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina
From North America:
— Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, head of the Vatican's office for bishops
— Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York
— Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila
— Brian Murphy, AP's Dubai bureau chief
THE PONTIFF'S CAPE
Pope Benedict XVI, his dress soon to be limited to a simple white robe, has worn a ceremonial red cape for his final meeting with the College of Cardinals.
The short cape with ermine trim, known as a mozzetta, is worn for special occasions. And special this occasion was, coming just hours before Benedict becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign.
He looked out at the cardinals and said, "Among you is the future pope." And he promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience."
— Victor L. Simpson, AP's Rome bureau chief
WAITING FOR THE POPE: 8:30 a.m. ET
People are starting to show up in the square in Castel Gandolfo to await the pope's arrival, but they are still outnumbered by members of the media.
— Tony Hicks, AP regional photo editor, Europe & Africa
AP Photo: Oded Balilty. Pope's final day: St. Peter's Square is reflected in the trombone of a German band prior Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Wednesday. IMAGE
'LIKE AN ORCHESTRA'
The pope is leaving with a veiled warning to the men who will choose his successor: Work together.
In his final audience with the cardinals — the so-called "princes" of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI urged them to set aside their differences as they elect the next pope. He says the College of Cardinals should be unified so it works "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached despite diversity.
The Vatican in recent years has been famed more for its disharmony, with the pope's own butler leaking papal papers that showed feuds and intrigue at the top of the Vatican bureaucracy.
Benedict says he'll pray for the cardinals in coming days as they vote on his successor.
— Nicole Winfield
QUICK QUOTE: POPE BENEDICT XVI
"Among you is also the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience."
— Pope Benedict XVI, in his final audience to his cardinals
The Clementine Hall where the pope greeted cardinals for the last time, pledging "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor, is a grand 16th-century room built by Pope Clement VIII in honor of Pope Clement I — the fourth pope. Covered in ornate marble tiles and Renaissance frescoes, it's basically the pope's reception room — the place where he receives VIPs from around the world. It's also the place where the body of the pope lies in state for private respects by Vatican officials.
— Joji Sakurai
AP Photo: Vatican TV. Pope's final day: Pope Benedict XVI prepares to deliver his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday before he retires in just a few hours. IMAGE
The pope has promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.
Pope Benedict XVI made the pledge as he bade farewell to his cardinals at the Vatican this morning. He also left with a plea for the College of Cardinals to unite and work together "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached.
The cardinals, who will be voting later this month to choose his successor, are lining up and kissing his hand in farewell.
WELCOME TO CASTEL GANDOLFO
Officials are expecting an enthusiastic welcome from the faithful in Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope. Fitting for a man looking for a quieter lifestyle, the numbers won't compare to his hectic send-off from St. Peter's Square on the eve of his retirement.
Some 150,000 people flooded the piazza for his final speech as pontiff, with many others watching on giant TV screens set up along the main boulevard outside. The square in Castel Gandolfo is many times smaller — though several thousand are expected to crowd in.
— Nicole Winfield
In betting-mad Britain, bookmakers have been busy taking bets on who will replace Benedict XVI since he announced his retirement earlier this month.
The favorite is Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who would be the first African pope. He's the frontrunner at bookies William Hill, at 5/2, and Ladrokes, at 11/4. Other leading contenders include Italian cardinals Angelo Scola and Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal Marc Oullet of Canada.
And for those wanting to gamble on a long shot, Ladbrokes has 500/1 odds on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — a Catholic convert from Anglicanism — and Irish bookmaker Paddy Power is offering 1,000/1 on U2 lead singer Bono.
— Jill Lawless
Cardinals are kissing Pope Benedict XVI's hand as they bid him farewell.
MEETING WITH CARDINALS
Pope Benedict XVI has just met with his cardinals in the Vatican this morning before heading off toward retirement later in the day.
He made brief remarks to them. More on what he said in just a bit.
How does the Catholic Church even get a new pope?
Well, the current one either dies or resigns. Then the church holds a papal conclave, and cardinals under the age of 80 vote on whom they want to lead them. This time around, 115 cardinals will be voting.
The conclave begins with the cardinals in their red cassocks filing into the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, chanting the "Litany of Saints." Then they place their hand on the Gospel and promise to observe absolute secrecy during and after the conclave.
They also vow to vote independently — a good way to guard against external interference.
During the conclave, the cardinals live in a Vatican hotel and have no contact with the outside world: no phones, no newspapers, no tweeting.
On Day One, only one round of balloting is held; after that, the cardinals cast two votes in the morning and two in the afternoon until one man has a two-thirds majority.
The outside world knows what is going on only by seeing smoke from the Sistine Chapel each time the ballots are burned. Black smoke means no decision, while white smoke means a pope has been chosen.
Soon afterward, the thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square will hear two Latin words announced from the balcony: "Habemus Papam! (We have a pope!)"
— Nicole Winfield
The big speeches are done. It's almost time to go.
In just a few minutes, Pope Benedict XVI meets with his cardinals this morning on the day he heads into retirement. No major speech is expected during his morning farewell with his closest advisers, just a simple greeting to each one inside the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
Shortly before 5 p.m. local time, Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pope, head to the helipad on the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat south of Rome. And there, at 8 p.m. — the exact moment Benedict's resignation goes into effect — the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off-duty, their service protecting the pope now finished.
QUICK QUOTE: JOHN KERRY
"The United States sends its best wishes to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves the Vatican after years of service and dedication to God, the Catholic Church and world peace. As the papal conclave assembles, I look forward to continuing our important relationship with the Vatican and working with the new pope to foster dialogue and promote human rights and human dignity throughout the world."
— New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Rome for a conference on Syria as part of his first diplomatic tour abroad
A GLIMPSE INSIDE
Victor L. Simpson, Rome bureau chief for The Associated Press, reflects on his decades of covering the papacy:
One thing that sets the Vatican apart from other places: You can't just stroll around and poke your head in everywhere.
As many as 18 million people pass through Vatican territory each year, but their visits are effectively limited to St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums. Aside from the Vatican's 492 residents and its 4,700 employees, everyone else needs a pass, even to drop by the Vatican pharmacy for medicine not sold in Italy (bring a doctor's prescription, please) or to buy back copies of the Vatican paper at the offices of L'Osservatore Romano.
After all these years, I still feel a tingle of excitement to be let in through the Bronze Door, escorted past Swiss Guards in full regalia and taken up to the pope's apartment on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace for a papal audience with a dignitary. These meetings have given a rare peek inside Vatican diplomacy.
— Victor L. Simpson
The town where Benedict is spending his last hours as pope, and his first hours as the first pontiff in 600 years to retire, is one of several picturesque "castle towns" known as the "Castelli," less than an hour's drive from Rome. Nestled in the Alban Hills, southeast of Rome, it is an area that is volcanic in origin. One of the volcano's old craters became Lake Albano, whose shores include Castel Gandolfo.
The volcano's no longer active, but the Castelli area gets its share of earthquakes, generally fairly mild and doing no damage. The rich volcanic soil helps produce inexpensive white wines that are a favorite in local trattorie as well as in restaurants in Rome.
The town is older than Christianity. The papal residence grounds include ruins from an imperial Roman villa, which itself had been on the site of ancient temples built several centuries before the ancient Romans came to check out the cool breezes and views.
The sprawling papal grounds, which as Vatican property enjoy extraterritoriality, include a working farm. Coffee bars in town have been known to serve milk from the farm's cows. (Yes, it's already been said: "Holy Cow.")
— Frances D'Emilio
AP Photo: Alfredo Valadez. Pope's final day: Armando Martin Duenas shows replicas of the two pairs of hand-crafted loafers that were given to Pope Benedict XVI during his March 2012 visit to Mexico. IMAGE
GOODBYE, RED SHOES
The red shoes are being retired.
The pope is giving up the trademark that briefly made him a fashion star, trading in his snappy ruby-red loafers for a pair of hand-crafted brown ones made for him by artisans in Mexico. He will wear those in retirement, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says.
The flash of red sparked (unfounded) rumors he was wearing Prada and helped make him Esquire magazine's accessorizer of the year in 2007. The actual designer? An Italian craftsman who had previously created a pair for Pope John Paul II, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
A former Vatican official assured The Associated Press back in 2005 that Benedict was no clotheshorse, advising that the pontiff "wouldn't know Gucci from Smoochi."
— Matt Surman
AP Photo: Pier Paolo Cito, File. Pope's final day: Pope Benedict XVI wearing a "saturno hat," inspired by the ringed planet Saturn, to shield himself from the sun, waves to the crowd in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. IMAGE
LAST DAY AS POPE
Pope Benedict XVI is making history today, becoming the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years.
Only a handful of popes have ever done so.
The last was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.
Benedict is saying farewell this morning to his closest advisers in Clementine Hall at the Apostolic Palace. Then shortly before 5 p.m., he will leave the palace for the last time as pope and fly by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Exactly at 8 p.m. — when his resignation takes effect — the doors at Castel Gandolfo will close, and the papacy that began on April 19, 2005, will come to an end.
— Nicole Winfield
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