PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pope Benedict XVI offered his final blessing today. He thanked the crowd for their friendship and affection, telling them that he is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth.
It was an emotional sendoff, his closest aide wept by his side as he said goodbye to Vatican officials. All while thousands of people came to take in the historic moment.
Bells tolled as Pope Benedict XVI left The Vatican by helicopter following his final prayer.
He did a fly-by around St. Peter’s Square before heading to Castel Gandolfo, which will be his temporary retirement home.
As of 2 p.m. our time, he has now taken the title of Pope Emeritus as his resignation became effective. He leaves the helm of the Catholic Church empty.
Earlier in the day, 144 cardinals gathered to say farewell to their leader.
The Pope met with each cardinal in attendance individually. One of them will be his successor.
“It has been a joy to work and walk with you during these years in the presence of God,” he said.
The day was marked with little pomp or circumstance, but is no less historic. Pope Benedict the XVI is the first leader of the Catholic faith to resign in six centuries.
Some of the cardinals, who have flocked to Rome for this final farewell, will soon enter conclave where they will elect the next pope.
“We need somebody to remind us of Jesus,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. “That’s sort of the… what you might call the supernatural characteristics you look for.”
Some of the United States cardinals held a news conference this afternoon.
“I can see the conclave might decide to elect an older man, realizing that he’s not going to have to carry on this burden into his 90s; and that if he becomes incapacitated, that he would feel permission to resign,” said Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston.
Along with the prestige that comes with the title of pope, Benedict’s successor will also inherit challenges, anger and wavering support in the wake of an ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal.
Benedict’s ring and papal seal will be “destroyed,” according to church rules.
The Pope also sent out one final tweet today.
It said: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”