Pope Benedict XVI has given his final Sunday blessing from his studio window to the cheers of tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, Rome.
Benedict said that even though he is retiring on Thursday from the papacy, the first pope in 600 years to do so, he is “not abandoning the church”. Instead he said he would serve the church with the same dedication he has until now, but would do so in a way “more suitable to my age and my strength”.
Benedict, 85, will spend his last years in prayer, meditation and seclusion in a monastery on Vatican City’s grounds. He has one more public appearance, at his weekly audience on Wednesday in the square.
Benedict has lately looked tired and frail but the crowd filling the cobblestone square seemed to energise him, and he spoke in a clear, strong voice, repeatedly thanking the faithful for their closeness and affection as they interrupted him, again and again, with applause and cheers.
Police estimated some 100,000 people turned out.
Benedict told the crowd that God is calling him to dedicate himself “even more to prayer and meditation”, which he will do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City’s ancient walls.
“But this doesn’t mean abandoning the church,” he said, as many in the crowd looked sad at his departure from regular view. “On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”
The phrase “tried to” was the pope’s ad-libbed addition to his prepared text.