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Pope Benedict's time as pontiff comes to an end

Tears, applause and bells send the 85-year old into retirement

Pope Benedict's time as pontiff comes to an end

By Kate Carlisle Rome, February 28 - Pope Benedict XVI's time as pontiff has ended. The period of 'sede vacante' or 'empty seat' has begun. Farewell applause and tears from Vatican staff sent Benedict on his way into retirement Thursday. Employees of the Vatican gathered in the courtyard of San Damaso and loudly applauded Benedict as he boarded the helicopter to begin his retirement at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome. The pope, 85, officially began his retirement at 20:00 local time. Tears were spotted on many faces of his staff, including that of photogenic Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who has been the pope's personal secretary. Gaenswein recently appeared on the cover of the Italian version of Vanity Fair magazine as the first personal secretary and head of the Papal Household, to become an archbishop. 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 was received by the bishop of the town of Albano, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, and the mayor, who announced plans to make him an honorary citizen of the community. "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 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. On Wednesday, at his last general audience, Benedict reiterated that his decision was the for good of the Church. 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". Benedict 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". The Vatican said Tuesday that Benedict XVI will be called 'pope emeritus' or 'Roman pontiff emeritus' after he steps down. Befitting his new position, Benedict will continue to wear a simple white papal cassock, minus the mozzetta - the short cape that covers his shoulders. As a retiree, Benedict will be putting aside his distinctive red shoes he has worn during his papacy that were named "accessory of the year" by Esquire magazine and replace them with brown shoes given to him by Mexican cobblers during a visit last year. Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said this week that a pre-conclave meeting of cardinals is likely to take place on Monday March 4. The meeting could reveal the date of the start of the conclave to elect Benedict's successor. On Monday Benedict issued a decree changing the rules of the conclave to make it possible for it take place sooner than the mandatory 15 days from a papacy's end, and so before mid-March. The pope's last words before leaving the window on the square of Castel Gandolfo were "thank you and good night". He then gave the crowd his last blessing before his abdication that became official at when the bells tolled at 8pm.

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