Pope Benedict XVI gave his final Sunday blessing from his studio window yesterday to the cheers of an estimated 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square, Rome.
Benedict, 85, said even though he was retiring on Thursday from the papacy, the first pope in 600 years to do so, he was “not abandoning the Church”.
Instead, he said he would serve the Church with the same dedication he had until now, but would do so in a way “more suitable to my age and my strength”.
He will spend his last years in prayer, meditation and seclusion in a monastery in the Vatican City’s grounds.
He has one more public appearance, at his weekly audience on Wednesday in the square.
Benedict has looked tired and frail lately, 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.
Benedict told the crowd that God was calling him to dedicate himself “even more to prayer and meditation”, which he would do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him in the grounds behind the Vatican’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 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.
Benedict smiled at the crowd after an aide parted the white curtain at his window, telling the people: “Thank you for your affection”.