Today, Pope Benedict spoke to the faithful for the first time since he announced his abdication. At the general audience he was visibly moved by the standing ovation he received from a Paul VI Hall that was completely filled (it fits 7,000 people).
“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided -” [prolonged applause] “Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.
I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.
I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”
For the next two weeks, Pope Benedict is still our Pope, and the rest of the general audience was very much as it usually is: catechesis and messages to and from the various groups gathered in the hall. As Fr. Lombardi indicated yesterday, all planned activities will continue until the Holy Father’s last working day. These include ad limina visits from Italian bishops, the general audiences, today’s Ash Wednesday Mass, a meeting with the priests of Rome tomorrow, the Angelus prayer on Sundays and visits from the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala.