Vatican City

Benedict holds last gen' audience before 150,000

Outgoing pope says moments when it seemed God was 'sleeping'

Benedict holds last gen' audience before 150,000

(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, February 27 - Benedict XVI told a crowd of around 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his last general audience as pope on Wednesday that it had seemed as if God was "sleeping" in some troubled moments for the Church in recent years. The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of scandal regarding child sex abuse by priests and the Vatican was sent reeling last year when the pope's butler was convicted for leaking confidential documents to the press, before eventually being pardoned. Benedict XVI said that in recent years "the Church has had moments of joy but also moments that were not easy" in which "the waters were rough, there was a headwind and the Lord seemed to be sleeping". But he added that "I always knew that the Lord was in that boat". The outgoing pope was cheered as he entered the square waving to the faithful from the popemobile. A group of children ran around the square shouting 'Benedict' as the popemobile moved. Flags from countries from all around the world could be seen in the big crowd. The end of his address was received by a long ovation. Benedict reiterated that the shock decision he announced earlier this month to step down from a position that is traditionally for life was made for the good of the Church. The 85-year-old said he did not have the physical and mental strength to continue to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. On Wednesday he said the decision was made: "in full awareness of its seriousness, but also with a deep serenity of spirit... I asked God to enlighten me to make the right decision for the good of the Church". He also responded to those who criticised the move on the grounds that you "don't climb down from the cross". "I am not abandoning the cross" he said, adding he stayed attached to the "crucified Lord" in a "new way". He also called on the faithful to pray for the cardinals who will elect the new pope at the upcoming conclave and for his eventual successor. He added that he felt the "weight" of the position when he was elected pope in 2005 and that God had guided him. "I am personally grateful for His unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter," the pope said in the English part of the audience. "I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world". Some 600 people worked on providing security for Wednesday's audience. Benedict will meet some foreign leaders later on Wednesday, his penultimate day as pope. On Thursday Benedict will move to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome for a few months before moving to a monastery inside the Vatican that is currently being renovated. His last public act will be to greet the faithful after arriving at Castel Gandolfo on Thursday. Benedict said that he would not be returning to a private existence even though he will be hidden from the world after he steps down on Thursday. "I'm not returning to private life," he said. "I won't have a life of travels, meetings, receptions, conferences etc. I remain, so to speak, in the service of prayer". He added that once elected, a pope "has no privacy" and he "belongs always and totally to everyone and the whole Church". The Vatican said Tuesday that Benedict XVI will be called 'pope emeritus' or 'Roman pontiff emeritus' after he steps down.

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