Vatican City

Outgoing pope on spiritual retreat

Benedict will hold no audiences until Saturday

Outgoing pope on spiritual retreat

Vatican City, February 18 - Pope Benedict XVI on Monday was on a spiritual retreat that will last until five days before he steps down as pontiff. The retreat at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace was already scheduled to take place before the 85-year-old German shocked the world last week by announcing that he will step down from the helm of the Catholic Church on February 28. It started Sunday evening and will last until Saturday, February 23, when Benedict is scheduled to meet Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. The pope will hold no audiences during the retreat, so the general audience that usually takes place on Wednesday is among the events to have been called off. Benedict, who said a week ago that he does not have the mental and physical strength to continue as pope, gave his penultimate Angelus address on Sunday. "I beg you to continue praying for me and for the next pope," he told a huge crowd. After stepping down, Benedict will stay at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome before moving to a monastery inside the Vatican that is currently being renovated. Benedict has said he will remain "hidden to the world" after his papacy ends. The papal conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope is set to take place in the middle of March.

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