Outgoing Pope Benedict has met with his cardinals ahead of boarding a helicopter and flying to the papal retreat south of Rome Thursday, where he will officially end his reign.
In remarks Thursday to the cardinals, broadcast on Vatican television, the pope pledged to show "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next pope. The vow could lay to rest fears that the presence of a living, retired pope in the Vatican would reduce the power of the next elected head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Thursday is set to be a quiet day for the pontiff. After bidding farewell to the cardinals, his helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo will give him one last aerial view of the Vatican while he is still in charge of it.
Pope Benedict's resignation officially goes into effect at 8 p.m. local time. At that hour, the doors of Castel Gandolfo will close and the Swiss Guards charged with guarding the reigning pope will go off duty.
In the coming days, Roman Catholic cardinals under the age of 80 will gather in the Sistine Chapel for a conclave, the ceremonial selection of a new pope.
On Wednesday, Benedict gave an emotional final audience in St. Peter's Square in Rome. He told thousands of onlookers that despite troubles and "stormy waters" weathered by the church during his tenure, God will 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.
Some believers have been disturbed by the announcement that after his retirement that 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."