Pope says his final farewell as he leaves Vatican for retirement

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Pope Benedict XVI has thanked well-wishers after delivering his final public speech to thousands of pilgrims outside the Vatican.

He stepped down yesterday after nearly eight years as leader of the world’s 1.2bn Roman Catholics.

The 85-year-old Pontiff, who was elected in 2005 following the death of John Paul II, shocked the world earlier this month by announcing he was to resign on grounds of age and increasing frailty.

He is the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

He told thousands of well-wishers that he is “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth”.

The frail Pontiff also told the crowds, who waved placards and banners of support, that he felt “very supported” by their sympathy.

Benedict XVI left the Vatican for the last time as Pope, flying by helicopter to the Vatican’s vacation retreat.

Before he left, Benedict, whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger, posted his final message on his Twitter page for his 1.6m followers.

His last tweet read: “Thank you for your love and support.

“May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

Before his departure from the Vatican, Benedict also pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor, who has not yet been decided.

Following his resignation, he will be known as “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus” and he will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI”.

The Vatican said that Benedict XVI will now dress in a white cassock without the mozzetta, or elbow-length cape, and will no longer be allowed to wear the red papal shoes.

His “Fisherman’s Ring”, the special signet ring which is impressed to validate certain official documents will be destroyed with the lead seal of the pontificate.