di Marcello Mento
Castel Gandolfo, February 28 - Over 10,000 well-wishers waited for Benedict XVI on Wednesday on the main square of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome, where he greeted the faithful for the last time after leaving the Vatican by helicopter at 17:05. The crowd exploded into applause several times during the resigning pope's brief greeting. "Thank you, dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation," Benedict said. Benedict, the first pope to stand down since Gregory XII in 1415, will spend two months at Castel Gandolfo before moving into a monastery inside the Vatican, as "pope emeritus". "I thank you for your friendship and affection," he said. The pontiff, who is living his last hours as head of the Catholic Church, was received by the bishop of the town of Albano, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, and municipal authorities. "You know that this day is different for me than previous ones. I'm no longer pope, only a pilgrim. Until 8pm I am, but then I will no longer be," he said. Benedict, 85, shocked the world when he announced on February 11 that he would resign because he said he lacked the mental and physical strength to continue leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. "I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last leg of his pilgrimage on earth, but I would like, with all of my heart, all of my love, my prayers, thoughts and interior strength to continue to work for the good of the Church and mankind," he said. The pope's last words before leaving the window were "thank you and good night". He then gave the crowd what is likely his last blessing before his abdication becomes official at 20:00 (19:00 GMT).