Benedict's reign ends with a promise to obey next pope

Thu Feb 28, 2013 2:22pm EST
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict ended his difficult reign on Thursday pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

The papacy became vacant at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT/2PM ET), marking the first time in six centuries a pope has resigned instead of ruling for life.

In a symbolic gesture, the Swiss Guards who stood sentry at the papal summer residence south of Rome, where the pope flew by helicopter less than three hours earlier, quit their posts and the massive wooden doors of the hilltop residence were closed.

At the same time, the papal apartments in the Vatican were locked and will not be opened until a new pope is elected.

As he left the Vatican several hours earlier by helicopter, he sent his last Twitter message: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the center of your lives."

Bells rang out from St Peter's Basilica and churches all over Rome as the helicopter circled Vatican City and flew over the Colosseum and other landmarks to give the pontiff one last view of the city where he is also bishop.

"As you know, today is different to previous ones," he told an emotional, cheering crowd holding balloons and banners after he arrived in the small town of Castel Gandolfo, where the summer residence it located.

He told the crowd, many of whom were crying, that he would soon become "simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth".   Continued...

 
Pope Benedict XVI speaks to the faithful for the last time from the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo February 28, 2013. Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history. REUTERS/ Tony Gentile ( ITALY - Tags: RELIGION)