Pope Benedict says farewell


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VATICAN CITY -- As hundreds of thousands of Catholics filled St. Peter's Square and the streets around it to bid farewell to the first pope in 600 years to resign, Pope Benedict XVI assured them he was doing it for their good and the good of the church.

"The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God's will and a deep love of Christ's church," he said today. "I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new pope."

He spoke in the dry wavering voice of an 85-year-old man, but not of a weak one. Regulars at Vatican events said he sounded stronger at his final public audience today than at his last public Mass on Sunday. Many in the crowd were from Rome, but there were flags from the pope's native Germany and from dozens of nations as diverse as China, the Slovak Republic and South Africa.

Pope Benedict spoke from the steps of St. Peter's Square, not far from where he first appeared on the loggia to bless the crowd after he was elected April 19, 2005.

As he did at his inaugural Mass and at countless ones to follow, the shy theologian stood in the Popemobile as it bounced over the cobblestones of St. Peter's Square, holding a rollbar with one hand while his other was raised in blessing. He was smiling, and appeared moved at the immense the outpouring of support and affection. Just before he left the Popemobile to speak, he stopped to bless a baby that his priest- secretary handed up to him.

Among those in the audience were a group of Duquesne University students and their professor, from Duquesne's Rome campus. They understood little of the pope's talk in Italian, but were moved by the joyous international spirit of the event.

The pope's resignation "has been a learning lab to see what happens when the world comes together," said Beth Michalec, a doctoral student who is teaching classes in communications. "For us it's an opportunity to embrace the idea of global citizenship and the power of faith."

The students with her spoke of being 11 or 12 years old when Pope John Paul II died and watching television as millions of pilgrims descended on Rome for his funeral.

Pope Benedict's final audience was very different in spirit, said Sandi Communale, 19, a sophomore from Seven Fields.

"There was joy and love in that circle. It was like a celebration," she said. "It's humbling to be in the presence of all of these people who are here for the same purpose you are. And we're witnessing history. We came to Rome to learn about history, not experience it. But we are."

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Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416. First Published February 27, 2013 1:45 PM


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