On the evening of February 28, while the sun was still shining, Pope Benedict XVI left the Apostolic Palace inside Vatican City, accompanied by Cardinal Angelo Comastri and Cardinal Agostino Vallini. At about 5 p.m., before getting in the car that would take him to the helicopter, he said goodbye to the staff at the Vatican, and to Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo. At 5:05 p.m., as the bells at St. Peter's Basilica rang out across the Square, the all-white helicopter took off towards Castel Gandolfo where he will remain until his permanent quarters at a Vatican monastery are restored.
The helicopter carrying the Pope flew toward the Janiculum Hill, then turned back over St. Peter's Basilica, then across the Tiber River and over the center of the Eternal City, above some of the major landmarks, like the Colosseum and the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Upon arriving at Castel Gandolfo after a 15-minute flight, the Pope was welcomed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the bishop of Albano, as well as the mayor of Castel Gandolfo.
A car took the Pope to the the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo at about 5:30 p.m., where hundreds of pilgrims were there to hear the last few words of Benedict XVI as Pope. The Pope entered the palace, then appeared at the window above the main portals.
The Pope's words from the window of the palace
“I am simply a pilgrim that begins his last phase on this Earth," Benedict said.
"I would like to, with all my heart, my prayer and my reflection, with all the strength inside me, work for the common good and the good of the Church and humanity.
"I feel very supported by your sympathy.
"Lets move forward together, with the Lord, for the good of the Church and the world. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world. Thank you. I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing.”
After giving them his blessing, Benedict XVI said goodbye. It was his last appearance as Pope.
At 8 p.m., his pontificate ended, and the "sede vacante" (empty seat or chair) began. While the light in the papal apartments was extinguished, small groups of faithful were praying quietly and singing hymns at 10 p.m. this evening.
During the interegnum when there is no Pope, all Vatican department heads will temporarily lose their posts, until a new Pope is elected.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the "Camerlengo" or Chamberlain, sealed the empty Papal apartments to prevent anyone from entering or exiting until the new Pope is elected.
Cardinal Bertone also has taken possession of Benedict's papal ring and seal, and is charged with destroying them both.
On March 1, all cardinals will receive a letter from the Dean of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano. The letter will officially state that Benedict XVI has retired, calling on them to come to Rome to elect his successor.
It is still not clear when the actual Conclave will begin. The Italian cardinals seem to prefer having an early Conclave, beginning as early as March 9, but some of the non-Italian cardinals would seem to prefer a Conclave that begins later, on March 15, or even a few days later.
“Maybe this is a bad analogy, but it’s almost like watching Britain and their monarchy,” said Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport IA said during a recent visit to the Iowa statehouse. “Everybody gets excited about it and I think there’s a lot of excitement when it’s been so long that a pope retired.”
Catholic Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines Catholic Diocese said he has observed energy among Catholics as Benedict retires and the prospect of a new pope emerges. “Anytime you have a new beginning, it gives people a great deal of hope and, I think, creates curiosity for the church and where it’s going to go,” Pates said, “and personalities make a difference, obviously.”