Pope Benedict has held his final audience as head of the Roman Catholic Church before stepping down from his post on Thursday.
Pope Benedict appeared in St. Peter's Square in Rome on Wednesday to lead prayers and meet with his followers one last time. Some 50,000 tickets were distributed, and officials expected thousands more to turn up for the historic occasion.
Addressing the crowd, Pope Benedict said despite troubles and "stormy waters" weathered by the church during his tenure, God would not let the institution sink. He said he was aware of the novelty and the gravity of his decision to step down, but assured the faithful that he had made the move "with profound serenity of spirit." He said he has great trust in the future of the Roman Catholic Church.
The pope read his address from sheets of paper. Occasionally, his comments, spoken in Italian, drew applause from the crowd
Earlier, the pope took a long cruise around St. Peter's Square in lanes blocked off for his vehicle, waving to onlookers and occasionally stopping to bless a baby passed to him from the crowd.
The papal audience is a weekly occurrence, but this final one has drawn much more attention than usual.
On Thursday, the pope is scheduled to meet with his cardinals before being transported by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. There, at the hour when his rule officially ends, the Swiss guards who care for the head of the Roman Catholic Church will officially take their leave.
Some believers have been disturbed by the announcement that after his retirement Benedict will be referred to as "emeritus pope" and continue wearing the white garments he wore while serving as pope. Critics say his presence in the Church could create tension with the new, ruling pope. But church authorities insist the transition will be a peaceful one and that Benedict's presence will not cast a shadow over the new leader.
Benedict has said his goal after stepping down is to live quietly in prayer and meditation , in his words "hidden to the world."