On Wednesday February 27, the last day before he officially steps down, Pope Benedict XVI will hold his last general audience in front of thousands of pilgrims at St Peter’s Square.
After eight years as head of the Catholic Church, the 85-year-old pontiff has chosen to resign due to his ailing health. The first papal resignation in almost 600 years.
General audiences in winter are normally held indoors, but such is the interest that they have had to change the arrangements.
50,000 tickets have been reserved to see the German Pope one last time and many thousands more are expected to line the nearby streets.
The following day February 28, after bidding goodbye to the Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger will leave the Vatican without ceremony to withdraw in Prayer and study under the title “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus.”
He will cease to be Pope at 20:00 local time at which point he will move with his personal documents to the Castel Gandolfo.
Benedict will give up his gold ring of office, known as the fisherman’s ring, and his personal seal will be destroyed in the same was as if he had died.
He will also stop wearing his specially-made red leather loafers and in their place wear the brown shoes hand made for him by a craftsman during a visit to Mexico last year.
From March 4 the College of Cardinals will meet and set a date for the start of a secret election. The Pope’s successor will be chosen by 115 cardinal-electors. A two thirds plus one majority is required.
A result is expected by Easter Sunday which this year falls on March 31.