Huge crowd bids Pope tearful farewell

Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the final time before retiring
Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the final time before retiring
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THE Pope received an emotional send off today from a massive crowd at his final general audience in St Peter’s Square.

Benedict recalled moments of “joy and light” but also times of difficulty when “it seemed like the Lord was sleeping.” An estimated 150,000 people, many with banners saying “Grazie!”, jammed the piazza to bid Benedict farewell and hear his final speech as pontiff. In this appointment – which he has kept each week for eight years to teach the world about the Catholic faith – Benedict gave deep thanks to his flock for respecting his decision to retire.

Benedict clearly enjoyed the crowds, touring the square in an open-sided car and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen children handed to him by his secretary. A total of 70 cardinals, some tearful, sat in attendance.

But Benedict made a quick exit, foregoing the typical meet-and-greet session that follows the audience. Vatican has said there were simply too many people who would have wanted to say goodbye.

Given the historic moment, Benedict also changed course and did not produce his typical professorial Wednesday catechism lesson.

Rather, he made his final public appearance in St Peter’s a personal one, explaining once again why he was becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign and urging the faithful to pray for his successor.

He said to love the church meant also having the courage to take “difficult, painful decisions”.