— Pope Benedict XVI bid his public farewell in front of tens of thousands of people on St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, the day before his resignation takes effect. The first pope to resign in nearly 600 years said goodbye.
The faithful and the curious pressed forward for a look and a wave, as the 85-year-old pope rode through the square in his open vehicle for the final time. Later, he told the crowd, and a worldwide television audience, he has been through some “not easy” moments.
Apparently referring to his decision to resign, Pope Benedict said “to love the Church also means having the courage to take difficult decisions.” He urged all Catholics to always put the good of the Church before their own desires.
Pope Benedict greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, April 19, 2005.
Pope Benedict blesses a baby as he rides around St. Peter's Square to hold his last general audience at the Vatican Feb. 27, 2013.
Pope Benedict appears on a giant screen in a packed St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during his last general audience, February 27, 2013.
Pope Benedict arrives to attend a meeting with seminarians at the Romano Maggiore seminary in Rome, February 8, 2013.
Pope Benedict waves as he arrives to lead the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 18, 2012.
Pope Benedict wears a sombrero, a traditional Mexican hat, while being driven through the crowd before officiating a mass in Silao, Mexico, March 25, 2012.
Pope Benedict holds his cross as he leads a solemn mass in Zagreb, Croatia, June 5, 2011.
Pope Benedict visits the Ardeatine Caves Memorial in Rome, Italy, March 27, 2011.
Pope Benedict leaves after an audience with Vatican-accredited diplomats at the Vatican, January 10, 2011.
Pope Benedict visits the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 12, 2009.
Pope Benedict waves to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's square during his weekly Angelus blessing at the Vatican, May 16, 2010.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, July 10, 2009.
The pope has struggled to deal with the scandal of sexual abuse by priests, the leak of thousands of embarrassing documents and a decline of the faith in Europe - all issues his successor will have to address.
One person at the audience with a particular interest in the Church's future was Rev. Thomas Rosica, the director of a Catholic television network in Canada.
"Pope John Paul II taught us the profound lesson of his papacy, especially in the final years, about suffering and dying. Pope Benedict has taught us another lesson. He's taught us about surrender. We don't cling to power and authority and office and privilege, when our energies are no longer there," said Rosica.
Other Catholics in the large crowd also were sympathetic to the pope's decision, and were joining the speculation about whether his successor might for the first time come from outside Europe.
Rosica said the cardinals who will elect the next pope are aware of all that, but are not as focused on the headlines as many observers are.
“Thank God the cardinals do not think in the way the newspapers would like them to think. They know what is going on, probably much more than we do. They will be hearing reports - the life of the Church in different places, what are the urgent needs - and out of all that a profile emerges. And I am fully confident that with the help of the Holy Spirit they know what they are doing,” he said.
Many of the cardinals who will elect Benedict's successor already are in Rome. Their decision is expected around mid-March, in time for the new pope to preside over Holy Week and Easter.
Meanwhile, from Thursday evening the Catholic Church will have a living former pope for the first time in nearly 600 years. Pope Benedict said he will continue to be part of the Church in what he called a “new way.” He asked the faithful to remember him, and to warm applause he concluded with a simple “thank you.”
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