Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI, who will be called "pope emeritus" when he steps down as the head of the Catholic Church, held his final general audience in front of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, the eve of his resignation.
Recounting his papacy moments, he said that during eight years of his papacy, he did face "choppy waters" but also had his moments of "light and joy" and felt the presence of god by his side.
He recalled that when he was elected pope on April 19, 2005, he questioned if God truly wanted it. "It's a great burden that you've placed on my shoulders," he recalled telling God.
Benedict clearly enjoyed the crowds, taking a long victory lap around 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 solemn attendance.
But Benedict made a quick exit, foregoing the typical meet-and-greet session that follows the audience; the Vatican has said there were simply too many people who would have wanted to say goodbye.
During his eight years as pope, Benedict said, "I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven't been easy ... moments of turbulent seas and rough winds, as has occurred in the history of the church when it seemed like the Lord was sleeping."
But he said he never felt alone, that God always guided him, and he thanked his cardinals and colleagues for their support and for "understanding and respecting this important decision."
Addressing an emotional final audience, Benedict said that "to love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself."
Tens of thousands of people toting banners saying "Grazie!" — "thank you" — jammed the piazza to bid Benedict farewell during his last audience — the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.
The 85-year-old German would continue to wear the "simple, white" papal cassock and use shoes given to him by Mexican cobblers during a visit last year, the spokesperson said.
"The pope really liked the gift of the shoes made for him by the artisans of Leon, Mexico, and he will continue to use them."
The Vatican official told media that Benedict's ring of office as pope will be destroyed, according to Vatican tradition. And his papers have been split between documents regarding the government of the Church, "which will go to the competent archives", but he will keep his personal notes, Lombardi added.
On Sunday, over 200,000 people gathered at St. Peter's Square here to listen to Pope Benedict XVI's final public blessing before his retirement.
"The Lord is calling me to 'climb the mountain', to devote myself to prayer and meditation," the pope told the crowd as he appeared at the window of his apartment overlooking the square.
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world earlier this month with the announcement that he would step down as head of the Catholic Church Feb 28 due to old age and failing health.
With Agency Inputs
First Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 09:17