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Pope Benedict XVI has held his last mass as pontiff at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in front of a congregration of thousands.

He was given a standing ovation as he arrived for the Ash Wednesday service, which was also attended by dozens of cardinals and bishops.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, 40 days of prayer and fasting for many Christians leading up to Easter.

The mass was the pope’s first appearance since his shock resignation on Monday which he put down to his age. Earlier, the 85-year-old told thousands of worshippers that he was standing down for “the good of the church”.

Such was the demand to attend his last mass, the traditional venue was changed from the Roman Basilica of Santa Sabina. It also saved the pope from the exhaustion of leading a long procession.

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