The scenes in Castel Gandolfo were in marked contrast to the solemn goodbyes for Benedict inside the Vatican.
Among the crowd there was joy that the small village was welcoming him into its midst for a while – and sadness that it was witnessing him as pope for the last time.
“I feel so moved, (to be) so close to the pope and I’m happy that he’s happy to be here. But… I’m so moved,” said Antonietta, an Italian nun, a smile on her face as her voice broke with emotion.
“The confusion around the abdication, the resignation, caused a certain amount of confusion and sadness. That’s painful but we can break through the barriers, and in this way learn what the Church really means, who the person of the pope is, in a new and a very fresh way,” said Liam Boyle, from the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
People had travelled from all over the world to be there. Mariano, a Mexican priest, said: “I believe that a new era is coming, as the first holy scripture said. New things are coming. I don’t know what, but certainly the fresh air we are breathing now is a sign of trust and hope.”
A banner hanging from a balcony in the square where Benedict gave his last address as pope read “Thank you, Benedict, we’re all with you!”.
He replied from the window: “Thank you for your friendship.”
There was perhaps tacit recognition that his reign has been particularly difficult and testing.
Euronews correspondent in Castel Gandolfo Alberto De Filippis concluded: “ The pope arrived by helicopter, followed by the sound of hundreds of bells, from Rome here to Castel Gandolfo, his new home for a few weeks. The last greeting to the people gathered here, was the final act of the Benedict XVI’s pontificate.”