The sun shined brightly in Vatican City after several days of rain while Pope Benedict XVI greeted an estimated 150,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the final General Audience of his pontificate.
Amid shouts of “Benedetto” (Benedict) and “Viva il Papa” (Long live the Pope), the Holy Father circled St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile, as the crowds waved and tried to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff in his last public talk before he officially resigns from the papacy tomorrow.
The Pope expressed his heartfelt thanks to the faithful, stating that through their presence, he could see that “the Church is alive.” Reminiscing on the start of his pontificate, Pope Benedict said that he felt great trust knowing that the truth of the Gospel is the strength of the Church. “This is my trust, this is my joy,” the Pope said.
“When, on April 19 almost eight years ago, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I felt this certainty firmly, and it has always accompanied me. At that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: Lord, why are you asking this of me and what are you asking of me? It is a great weight you are placing on my shoulders, but if this is what You ask, at your word I will let down the nets, confident that You will guide me, even with my weaknesses. And eight years later I can say that the Lord has truly guided me.”
The Holy Father compared the moments of his pontificate to the experience of St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, stating that while the Lord had given many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, “there were also times when the water was rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to sleep.”
“But I always knew that the Lord is in the boat, and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but it is His. And He will not let her sink, it is He who leads it, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because so He has willed it. This was and is a certainty, that nothing can obscure. And that is why today my heart is filled with gratitude to God because He has never left me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love,” the Holy Father said.
Throughout the audience, many of the faithful including many of the cardinals, shed tears. The Pope thanked the Cardinals, particularly Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as well as the members of the Roman Curia, saying that “they have been a solid and reliable support for” him.
Courage to Make Tough Choices
Commenting on his resignation, Pope Benedict said that upon feeling his strength was decreasing, he asked God “to make me take the right decision not for my sake, but for the good of the Church.”
“I have taken this step in full awareness of its seriousness and also its novelty, but with profound peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make tough choices, difficult ones, having always before oneself the good of the Church and not oneself,” the Pope said.
The Supreme Pontiff said that he had experienced that one can receive life when it is given.
Speaking on life after his resignation goes into effect, the Pope stated that he could not return to a private life, nor spend his time travelling or attending meetings and conferences. “I am not abandoning the cross,” he said, “but remain in a new way with the Crucified Lord. I no longer carry the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds.”
“St. Benedict,” he continued, “whose name I bear as Pope, will be for me a great example in this. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”
Pope Benedict thanked the faithful present for their “respect and understanding” in accepting his decision to resign from the Petrine ministry.
Concluding the General Audience, Benedict XVI asked the faithful to remember him in their prayers before God and, above all, “to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so important a task, and for the new Successor of Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and the power of his Spirit.”