Pope Benedict XVI: A 'simple and humble worker' (+video)
Amidst a tearful crowd, Pope Benedict XVI led his final public mass on Wednesday at St. Peter's Basilica. He thanked those in the audience for their prayers. Breaking with tradition, he will retire this month to a life of prayer in a converted monastery. He will not play a role in the selection of his successor.
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The Rev. Reinaldo Braga Jr., a Brazilian priest studying theology in Rome, said he was saddened when he first heard the news of Benedict's retirement.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Pope Benedict XVI
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"The atmosphere was funereal," he said. "But then I realized it was a wise act for the entire church. He taught the church and the world that the papacy is not about power, but about service."
It was a sentiment Benedict himself emphasized Wednesday, saying the "path of power is not the road of God."
Benedict's decision has placed the Vatican in uncharted waters: No one knows what he'll be called or even what he'll wear after Feb. 28.
The Vatican revealed some details of that final day, saying Benedict would attend a morning farewell ceremony with his cardinals and then fly by helicopter at 5 p.m. to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
That means he will be far from the Vatican when he ceases being pope at 8 p.m. — a deadline Benedict himself chose because that's when his normal workday ends.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said no formal or symbolic act was needed to make the resignation official, because Benedict has already done all that was required by affirming publicly he had taken the decision freely.
Benedict's final official acts as pope will include audiences with the Romanian and Guatemalan presidents this week and the Italian president on Feb. 23. His final general audience is Feb. 27.
To assure the transition goes smoothly, Benedict made an important appointment Wednesday, naming the No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city state, Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, as a legal adviser to the camerlengo.
The camerlengo, or chamberlain, helps administer the Vatican bureaucracy in the period between Benedict's resignation and the election of a new pope. The current camerlengo is Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.
He and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, will have a major role in organizing the conclave, during which the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will vote on who should succeed Benedict.
The Vatican has made clear that Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor, and once retired, he will live a life of prayer in a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens.
But his continued presence within the Vatican walls has raised questions about how removed he really will be from the life and governance of the church. Lombardi acknowledged that Benedict would still be able to see friends and colleagues.
"I think the successor and also the cardinals will be very happy to have very nearby a person that best of all can understand what the spiritual needs of the church are," Lombardi said.
Still, Benedict is expected to keep a low public profile.
As a result, his last appearances as pontiff are expected to draw large crowds for what may well be some of the last speeches by a man who has spent his life — as a priest, a cardinal and a pope — teaching and preaching.
And they will also give the faithful a way to say farewell under happier circumstances than when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005.