Once he takes up residence as planned in a former convent on a hilltop within
the Vatican walls, the Church will be in the unprecedented situation of
having a pope and his predecessor living within a stone’s throw of each
other.

Vatican analysts have even suggested his sudden exit could set a precedent for
ageing popes in the future and many Catholics say a more youthful, pastoral
figure could breathe new life into a Church struggling on many levels.

From Catholic reformers calling for women clergy and for an end to priestly
celibacy, to growing secularism in the West and the ongoing scourge of
decades of sexual abuse by paedophile priests, the next pope will have a
tough agenda.

The run-up to the exact moment that will go down in history as only the second
voluntary resignation of a Roman pontiff in the Church’s 2,000 years has
been filled with emotion but perhaps surprisingly low-key for the Vatican.

There will be a small parting ceremony with some of his staff in a Vatican
courtyard at 1550 GMT and a few minutes late the pope will board a white
helicopter emblazoned with the papal insignia from the Vatican grounds.

The soon-to-be former pope will see the Vatican City – the world’s smallest
state – from the sky one last time as its sovereign ruler and fly to the
17th-century papal residence of Castel Gandolfo on a rocky outcrop near Rome.

There the pope will begin a quiet life of prayer and academic research.

Within a couple of months, the pope is expected to return to the Vatican and
take up residence in an ex-nunnery with breathtaking views of Rome
surrounded by extensive well-manicured gardens where he could bump into his
successor.

Benedict has said he will live “hidden from the world” but the
Vatican has said he is ready to help and could provide “spiritual
guidance” to the next pope although he could not intervene directly or
contradict him in public.

“I am not abandoning the cross,” Benedict said on Wednesday – a
response to Stanislaw Dziwisz, secretary to his popular predecessor John
Paul II who said his mentor’s agonizing final years showed “you don’t
come down from the cross”.

At a meeting with hundreds of tearful priests of Rome – the pope’s diocese –
Benedict spoke off-script about his experiences as a young reformer during
the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s which changed the face of
Catholicism.

“I will always be with you,” he said, as they chanted “Long
live the pope!”

At his last traditional weekly Angelus prayer on Sunday, he told pilgrims: “The
Lord is calling me to climb the mountain.”

The Vatican’s culture minister Gianfranco Ravasi even compared Benedict to the
Biblical figure of Moses praying to God on Mount Sinai.

The pope’s parting words have been harsh too, like his condemnation of “religious
hypocrisy” and “rivalry” in the Church at his final mass in
St Peter’s Basilica where his exit was accompanied by waves of applause.

“The face of the Church… is at times disfigured,” he said,
following months of intrigue over a hugely damaging leak of confidential
papal papers and cloak-and-dagger goings-on at the Vatican’s secretive bank.

In the crowd at the pope’s last general audience, Sharon Clark, a retiree from
the United States, said the Church needed some new energy.

“I admire Benedict, but I hope the next pope will have the strength to
unite the Church and help it grow again – and bring back a bit of morality.”

Source: AFP

Pope Benedict’s last day: clock runs down on pontiff’s historic resignation – Telegraph.co.uk
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