As the faithful cheered, applauded and wiped away tears, a tranquil and slightly smiling Benedict XVI gave blessing after blessing as he processed out of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of his last public Mass.
The applauding lasted for long minutes at the end of Mass, but the Holy Father did not add any further extemporaneous greeting, only saying “Grazie” as he called the faithful to the final prayer.
He did mention his resignation during the homily, saying simply, “Tonight we are great in number around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, also to request his intercession for the Church’s journey at this particular time, renewing our faith in the Supreme Pastor, Christ the Lord. For me it is a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude my Petrine ministry, and ask for a special remembrance in prayer.”
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s secretary of state and the cardinal camerlengo, at the end of the Mass, thanked the Holy Father for a ministry he described as bringing God to men and men to God.
“We would not be honest, Your Holiness, if we said that this evening there is not a hint of sadness in our hearts,” Cardinal Bertone said. “In recent years, your teaching has been a window open onto the Church and the world, which let in the rays of truth and love of God, to enlighten and warm our journey, even and especially at times when clouds gathered in the sky.”
The cardinal added, “All of us have realized that it is precisely the deep love that Your Holiness has for God and the Church that prompted you to make this act, revealing that purity of mind, that strong and demanding faith, that strength of humility and meekness, along with great courage, that have marked every step of your life and your ministry, and that can only come from being with God, from standing in the light of the word of God, from continuously going up the mountain of encounter with Him to descend again into the City of men.”
Cardinal Bertone also suggested that the Holy Father’s decision to resign highlights the awareness that the Church belongs to Christ.
“The Church is always renewed, always reborn,” he said. “Serving the Church in the firm knowledge that it is not ours, but God’s, that it is not we who build it but He; being able to say in truth: ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty’ (Lk 17:10), trusting completely in the Lord, is a great lesson that you, also with this difficult decision, have given not only to us, the Pastors of the Church, but to the entire People of God.”
Cardinal Bertone concluded his statement thanking God “for the path that the whole Church has walked under the guidance of Your Holiness and we want to tell you from the depths of our heart, with great affection, emotion and admiration: thank you for giving us the shining example of a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, a worker, however, who knew at all times how to do that which is most important: to bring God to men and to bring men to God.”
On Thursday, the Holy Father will meet in Paul VI Hall with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome.
On Friday, he will meet with the president of Romania; Guatemala’s president and the Italian Senator Mario Monti will be granted audiences on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Holy Father will begin a week of spiritual exercises, as is customary during Lent. This year the retreat will be preached by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
The spiritual exercises end on Feb. 23; the Pope will offer a brief reflection to conclude them.
His final Angelus reflection will be Feb. 24. The general audience of Feb. 27 will be his last public appearence.
On his last day as Pontiff, Benedict XVI will meet with cardinals in the morning, and then at 5 p.m. be taken by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo.
At 8:00 p.m. on Feb. 28 the See of Peter will officially become vacant.
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On the Net:
Full text of Pope’s homily: www.zenit.org/en/articles/benedict-xvi-s-homily-at-ash-wednesday-mass
Full text of Cardinal Bertone’s address: www.zenit.org/en/articles/cardinal-bertone-s-farewell-address-to-the-holy-father