On Thursday February 28 at 20:00 CET Pope Benedict XVI will officially step down and slip quietly from public view.
In keeping with his modest ways there will be no public ceremony for the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years.
A day earlier thousands of pilgrims from all over the world gathered at St Peter’s Square for his final public address.
One of those was Javier Lisaraga, a priest from Pamplona, who said: “It was very moving, it meant a lot to the whole audience as it was the last one, and also the service he provided to all believers and non-believers was enlightening, because the evangelical message is universal.”
On Benedict’s departure the cardinals who have also come from far and wide will begin planning the closed-door conclave that will elect his successor.
The Vatican seems to be aiming for a decision by mid-March so the new pope can lead the Holy Week services that culminate in Easter at the end of the month.
The outgoing pope meanwhile will begin a life “hidden from the world” at the Castel Gandolfo.
“We are getting ready for the pope’s arrival, as we have always done, but this time we hope it will be much bigger, to show our love, our affection and our solidarity for the pope,” said Pietro Diletti, a priest from the Gandolfo church.
Whoever takes over from Benedict will have their work cut out to restore the image of the Catholic Church, as it has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent years.
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