Vatican City

Benedict recalls 'rough water' before 150,000 people

Odds move in favor of Italian pope, bookies say

Benedict recalls 'rough water' before 150,000 people

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 moments of "rough waters" for the Church in recent years. In his penultimate day as pope, his words recalled scandals in recent years ranging from priest sex abuse to the pope's own butler leaking confidential documents to the press, both of which Vatican insiders have speculated prompted Benedict to become the first pontiff to step down in six centuries. Benedict told the faithful Wednesday that during his papacy "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. 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 shocking 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. About 70 cardinals were in attendance Wednesday, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. A total of 115 cardinals are expected to take part in the conclave, which cannot begin until all are present in Rome. No precise date has been announced, and Vatican watchers say it could start as soon as next week. In the run up British bookmakers say the odds are good that the new pope would be Italian and not from the developing world as previously predicted. According to William Hill bookmakers on Wednesday, the odds that an Italian cardinal would rise to the ranks of pontiff were four to 1.8. The likeliest of 'papabile' candidates is Milan Archibishop Angelo Scola with four to one odds, followed by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone at six to one, and the head of the Italian bishops conference (CEI) Angelo Bagnasco at eight to one, William Hill said. "At this point in time, those placing bets believe the man to succeed Benedict XVI will be Italian, instead of a South American or an African, as was predicted initially," a spokesman for William Hill told betting publication Agipronews.

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