Pope Benedict's last Sunday blessing
Feb 24, 2013 / 7:35 am
Pope Benedict XVI gave his pontificate's final Sunday blessing from his studio window to the cheers of tens of thousands of people packing St. Peter's Square, but sought to reassure the faithful that he wasn't abandoning the church by retiring to spend his final years in prayer.
The 85-year-old Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
But while he has lately looked tired and frail, the crowd filling the cobblestone square seemed to energize him, and he spoke in a clear, strong voice, repeatedly thanking the faithful for their closeness and affection as they interrupted him, again and again, with applause and cheers. Police estimated some 100,000 people turned out.
Benedict told the crowd that God is calling him to dedicate himself "even more to prayer and meditation," which he will do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.
"But this doesn't mean abandoning the church," he said, as many in the crowd looked sad at his departure from regular view. "On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength."
The phrase "tried to" was the pope's adlibbed addition to his prepared text.
Benedict has one more public appearance, a Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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