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On his first full day as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI offered Mass, read in the books he brought with him and took a walk through the Castel Gandolfo gardens while praying the Rosary. The evening before, which capped an eventful day the likes of which the Church has never seen before, and most likely will not see for a long time, Benedict spent watching the news and reading some of the messages he received. Father Federico Lombardi told the assembled press this in what was the first of daily press briefings during the sede vacante.
Reading this today was actually rather comforting, because yesterday was quite eventful, even for one who watched the main events via the Vatican video player. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, there was definitely a personal factor; it was less the departure of a high official, and more the passing of a beloved family member. While the morning meeting with the cardinals assembled in Rome (pictured above) was a very affectionate event, with quite a lot of smiles and laughter (standing out was the joke and the laugh that Cardinal Tagle seemingly shared with the Holy Father), the afternoon was totally different.
The tone was set with the first appearance of the Pope on the screen, bidding his farewells to the vicars general of his diocese, Cardinals Vallini and Comastri. Neither kept a dry eye, and especially touching I found Cardinal Vallini briefly squeezing Archbishop Gänswein’s hand as a sign of support. The latter subsequently had to employ a tissue to dry his eyes as well.
And then, after the fifteen-minute helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, there was the epilogue to almost eight years of Benedict XVI, and it was as simple and to the point as the Pope emeritus himself.
Thank you all!
Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your affection that does me much good. Thank you for your friendship, your love, [applause] …
You know that this day for me is different from previous ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church: until eight in the evening I will be still, and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.
But I wish still [applause - thank you!] … but I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity. And I feel very much supported by your affection.
Let’s go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world.
Thank you, I give you now [applause] … with all my heart, my blessing.
Thank you, good night! Thank you all!”
And so, a final two-handed wave (not unlike, as some have noted, that first gesture we saw back in April of 2005), and the Pope returned inside. And then, less than three hours later, it was over. The doors closed, the Swiss Guards returned to their barracks, and the sede vacante began.
It was a farewell: we have seen our last of Benedict. But it’s not a farewell: he is still there with us, not in plain sight, but as close as ever in prayer and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. So, while we mourn a loss, we have also gained something. But it will take some getting used too, that much is certain.
And here we go… Today we enter the last two days of the 265th papacy. As Benedict undoubtedly looks forward to starting the twilight years of his service to the Church, in St. Peter’s Square, the crowds have been lining up since the early hours of the morning to get their final glimpse of our Holy Father.
Set to begin at 10:30 local time, Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience promises to be only a slight departure from the norm. The Holy Father will teach one last time, but we’ll have to wait and see what his choice of topic will be. He will take an extra long tour across the square before returning to the Apostolic Palace, where he will meet with some of the dignitaries who have travelled to Rome today. There will be no brief meetings with visiting prelates and pilgrim groups at the end of the audience this time around.
And at the same time this will be like no other general audience before. It will be a historical event: an abdicating Pope bidding farewell to his flock – present in the tens of thousands in Rome, and in the hundreds of millions across the globe. And without doubt it will be emotional. Unavoidable distant in space, the Holy Father is still close in the hearts of many, not least mine.
Sure, we will see him in images and video tomorrow, as he bids his farewells to the cardinals and the Curia, with Cardinal Bertone seeing him off from the Vatican, and Cardinal Sodano greeting him one last time on the helicopter pad at 5pm tomorrow afternoon. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the Governor of the Vatican City State, will welcome the Pope at Castel Gandolfo. Appearing on the balcony of the traditional papal summer residence, we will what now seems to be our last glimpse of the Pope, hours before he becomes Pope Emeritus. at 8pm. At that point the Swiss Guards will salute and depart - tasked as they are with the protection of the Roman Pontiff, and tomorrow evening there will be no such person…
And after that rollercoaster ride the next will probably stand ready on Monday, as the cardinals will start their General Congregations in preparation of the conclave.
Photo credit: Looking more tired than we have seen him before, Pope Benedict XVI sits before his last Angelus prayer on Sunday [l'Osservatore Romano].