Vatican City: On his final day as Pope, Benedict XVI bid an emotional farewell to his cardinals at the Vatican saying that he would “continue to be close” to them after resignation.
Expressing a hope that the Church would work like an orchestra where different elements come together to create the harmony, Pope also vowed "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.
Beginning a quiet final day as leader of the world`s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope met many cardinals and staff and flew to papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
No major speech was planned during Thursday`s farewell to his closest advisers. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service.
Around 5 pm, Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pontiff, head to the helicopter pad on the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
There, at 8 pm sharp, Benedict becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo will shut and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty.
After eight years of papacy at Vatican replete with both joyous and difficult moments, Pope Benedict XVI resigned on Thursday.
Benedict, who is the first pope to resign in 600 years, will be known as ‘pope emeritus’ after stepping down.
Pope’s last audience yesterday turned out to be an emotional farewell with more than 150,000 people thronging St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
Pope took a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car, and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen babies. Seventy cardinals, some tearful, sat in solemn attendance — and gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
In an emotional farewell at his final audience, 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."
Touching upon how papacy leaves one without any scope for privacy, he said, "I knew I was always and forever committed for the Lord, that there would no longer be any privacy. The Pope always and totally belongs to everyone, deprived of private sphere.
"I experienced that and am experiencing it right now. There is no return to the private sphere. My decision does not revoke this fact. I am not abandoning the cross. I will remain, in a way, at the foot of the crucified Lord".
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.
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."
An emotional audience, with thousands 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.
Benedict also replaced his usual Wednesday catechism lesson with a heartfelt final address, explaining once again why he was retiring and assuring his flock of 1.2 billion that he was not abandoning them.
Benedict has said he decided to retire after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn`t have the "strength of mind or body" to carry on.
"I have taken this step with the full understanding of the seriousness and also the novelty of the decision, but with a profound serenity in my soul," Benedict told the crowd.
As his closest aide wept by his side, Benedict bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a corps of Swiss Guards standing by at attention.
Benedict then travelled by car to the helipad on the top of the hill of the Vatican gardens and boarded a helicopter along with his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, for the 15-minute trip to Castel Gandolfo.
Bells tolled as they took off and circled St. Peter`s Square, where well-wishers held up signs saying "Thank You."
Before leaving, Benedict held his final audience with his cardinals and pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor, a poignant and powerful message to close out his eight-year pontificate.
Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave that would elect the next pope.
With Agency Inputs