On February 27, Pope Benedict XVI held the final public audience of his pontificate before throngs of tens of thousands of wellwishers gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. It is a farewell, however, that does not mark the end of his public life. Speaking to the masses, the pontiff said he had “suffered" over his momentous decision to step down from the see of Peter and the leadership of one billion Catholics as of the evening of February 28. He said that his resignation was in the best interest of the Church.
After his departure from the Vatican via helicopter on Feb. 28, he will go to the papal summer residence at Castelgandolfo. While he told the crowd today that there is no returning to private life, noting that his election as Pope eight years ago marked and the end of "all privacy." His spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi told the press on February 26 that Benedict will be referred to as “emeritus.”
"There is no return to the private. My decision to renounce the active exercise of ministry doesn't revoke this. I'm not returning to a private life," Pope Benedict said to thousands of pilgrims who waved placards and national banners. "I'm not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way beside the crucified Lord," he said.
Announced two weeks ago, the Pope’s resignation shocked the world. The last pope to resign did so six centuries ago. It is now that officials of the Holy See are putting together the final touches on the protocols to be used to address the future pope emeritus, and the vestments he will wear. Once his quarters are prepared at a monastery on the grounds of the Vatican, the pope emeritus will be transferred there from Castelgandolfo.
But on Feb. 27, Pope Benedict XVI was driven in his popemobile to greet pilgrims who shouting ‘Long live the Pope” in many languages.
Speaking to the pilgrims from his balcony, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his election following the death of the wildly popular Pope John Paul II. A theologian like his predecessor, Pope Benedict has been praised for his writings and putting an end to the Counter-Reformation character of the Catholic Church to embrace one where evangelization is more prominent. Even so, critics from within and without the Church have criticized him for the scandal of adulterous priests and bishops which has continued to sputter despite the fact that most of the offenses happened in the years prior to his pontificate.
"I felt like St. Peter aboard his boat on the Sea of Galilee: The Lord gave us many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the fish were abundant," the pope said. "There were also moments in which the waters were agitated and the wind against us when, as in the entire history of the Church, the Lord seemed asleep," he added.
"I took this step in full knowledge of its gravity and novelty, but with a deep serenity in my soul," the pope said. He added: "I'm not coming down from the cross."