Benedict XVI begins final day as pope

  • Pope Benedict XVI is carrying out his final engagements before he retires, the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415.

    Benedict is expected to spend his final hours at his Vatican residence with his cardinals who have been his closest aides during his eight-year pontificate.

    He will then fly by helicopter at 5pm local time to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome and greet parishioners from the balcony of the palace, marking his final public act as pope.

    At 8pm, the exact time at which his retirement becomes official, the Swiss Guards standing outside the doors of the palace will go off duty, signifying the end of their service to protect the head of the Catholic church.

    On Wednesday, thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square in the Vatican for Benedict's final general audience.

    Benedict, 85, told the crowd his papacy had been "a heavy burden" during his eight years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church but said he was sure that God would guide him.

    The pope announced his retirement on February 12, citing old age. His decision comes as the Church battles crises over child abuse by priests and a leak of confidential Vatican documents revealing corruption among Vatican officials.

    After Benedict XVI steps down, he will become known as "pope emeritus" and will retain the title "His Holiness".

    He will also still be known by his papal title of Benedict XVI rather than revert to Joseph Ratzinger and continue to wear his distinctive white cassock but without a cape or trimmings.

    However, he will surrender his gold ring of office, known as the fisherman's ring. His personal seal will also be destroyed in the same way as when a pope dies.

    Benedict will also stop wearing his trademark red loafers, instead choosing to wear brown shoes hand made for him by a Mexican craftsman during a brief visit to Mexico last year.

    His successor will be chosen in a conclave due to take place from March 4 when the College of Cardinals will meet in general congregations.

    The successor will be chosen by 115 cardinal-electors, who are younger than 80 years old, through ballots held in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

    A two-thirds-plus-one vote majority is required. 

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