VATICAN CITY —
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.
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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