During his last general audience Wednesday, Benedict XVI invited firm trust in the Lord, “like children in the arms of God.”
The serenity of that trust has been reflected on his face today, the last of his pontificate. This morning, he addressed the cardinals for the last time, and then greeted each of them personally.
Then this afternoon, with very little ceremony, the Holy Father left the apostolic palace and was taken by car for the few-minute ride to the Vatican heliport, where he lifted off at 5:07 Rome time, as the bells of St. Peter’s rang out.
Vatican Television transmitted video coverage of the brief flight, as the helicopter flew over Rome, passing by the Colosseum and other great monuments to the Church’s 2,000-year history — a history which Benedict XVI has deeply marked, not only with his profound and extensive theological contribution, but now, with his decision to resign from the See of Peter.
The helicopter touched down at 5:24, bringing Benedict XVI’s last papal trip to a close. As another small group of people took the opportunity to kiss his hands and say good-bye and thank you, the Holy Father continued smiling serenely, though he looked a bit tired, now near the end of what has undoubtedly been a very emotional day.
The Pontiff was taken by car along the beautiful pathways leading to the residence at Castel Gandolfo, where he has spent the summers of his pontificate, as have popes before him.
Just after 5:30, he walked slowly inside, as the bells rang out in welcome, and the crowds packed in the courtyard chanted, “Benedetto.” Some 10 minutes later he arrived at the window overlooking the plaza with a broad smile and outstretched arms, to say “Grazie!” Thank you.
He spoke for just a couple minutes, saying thank you as the crowds interrupted him with cheers and applause, and as many wiped away tears.
The Holy Father then gave his last blessing as Pontiff, enthusiastically thanking the faithful yet again and wishing them good night.
At 8 p.m., the Swiss Guards will leave their posts at the pontifical residence, thereby signaling the official end of the papacy of Benedict XVI.