Faithful at Castel Gandolfo prepare for pope's retirement

Summer residence to host Benedict before he moves to Vatican

Faithful at Castel Gandolfo prepare for pope's retirement

Rome, February 20 - At the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, the faithful are preparing for a historic event: the arrival of a retired pope, the first in roughly six centuries. Immediately after his retirement takes effect at 8 p.m. local time on February 28, Pope Benedict XVI plans to retreat to the papal summer residence in the small town of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban hills south of Rome. There he intends to stay for a few months, while the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens is prepared for his permanent retreat to a life of prayer and contemplation. Excitement is running high in Castel Gandolfo as the pope's followers prepare to greet him with prayers, including the rosary, when he arrives. The square outside the papal residence will be filled with candles and choral music to celebrate Benedict's stay there, as well as the commencement of his new life. "We want to welcome him first of all by prayer, because we know that he is a man of prayer, and that he will be with us in prayer," Don Pietro Diletti, pastor of the local church of St. Thomas of Villanova, told Vatican Radio. The faithful in the area plan to gather outside the papal residence several hours before Benedict's scheduled arrival there, to begin to pray the rosary, which will be alternated by other prayers and reflection, said Diletti. "So when he is there and looks down, we will stop the prayer and all gather there together, the square packed and filled with candle light," he added. "We are all mobilizing and we know that many will come from outside (the local community.) "It will, therefore, be truly a manifestation of affection, esteem and solidarity with the Pope". Benedict, 85, stunned the world last week when he announced that he would resign at the end of the month due to his age, becoming the first pontiff in modern history to step down from what has traditionally been considered a lifetime term. His retirement will begin at what the Vatican describes on its website as a place where the pope can draw from nature to regain his strength. "In this minor place on the hill that overlooks the Lake Albano and opens to a view of the Roman countryside, in direct contact with nature and the healthy climate of the area, the pope fortifies His forces that strives tirelessly for the good of all humanity," reads the post. At Castel Gandolfo, the lakeside residence is also equipped with a swimming pool that was used for physiotherapy treatments during his predecessor John Paul II's bout with Parkinson's disease. Local priest Diletti said he has met Pope Benedict during his summer vacations in Castel Gandolfo and looks forward to renewing their acquaintance. "In short meetings, but also long meetings, we have talked a lot," said Diletti. "He asks questions about all sorts of things, he is a man who is interested in the details. "For example, he asked about the bell we had restored, and asked in what key it rang: G".

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