VATICAN CITY - On his last morning in office Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI pledged to respect and obey his successor and told the church’s cardinals that he would pray for them to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their selection of his successor.
“Among you is . the future pope, to whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” the pontiff said, apparently trying to allay fears that having both a reigning and retired pope living inside the Vatican might spark confusion or division within the church.
Benedict bade farewell to the dozens of black-robed cardinals, the “princes” of the Roman Catholic Church, who were seated in the frescoed Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. The prelates filed before him one by one to shake or kiss his hands and exchange a few words; many removed their red skullcaps out of respect.
In his valedictory remarks, delivered from his seat at the front of the hall, Benedict told the cardinals that it had been “a joy to walk with you in these years in the light of the presence of the resurrected Lord.” His eight years on the throne of St. Peter had its moments of “radiant light” as well as “clouds that have gathered in the sky,” but through it all, “we have tried to serve Christ and his church with deep and total love,” the pope said.
His comments were an echo of the emotional and unusually personal address he gave Wednesday to tens of thousands of pilgrims who filled St. Peter’s Square for his final public audience.
Later Thursday, the pope will be flown by helicopter to the papal summer retreat south of Rome, where he is likely to remain while the cardinals choose his successor in a conclave in the coming weeks.
Benedict expressed his hope that the cardinals would “grow further in deep unity” so that they would become “like an orchestra” full of diversity but in harmony. Critics of the Vatican say that the institution is rife with factionalism and jealousies.
“I will continue be close to you in prayer, especially in the coming days, that you may be illuminated by the Holy Spirit,” the pontiff said.
At 8 p.m. Thursday, Benedict’s resignation comes into effect and he ceases to be pope. But he will continue to be addressed as “his holiness,” with the title “pope emeritus.”
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