Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emotional scenes at Pope Benedict's farewell

Pope Benedict's farewell

Tens of thousands of emotional pilgrims cheered and cried as Pope Benedict XVI rode out on St Peter's Square in his white "popemobile" on Wednesday for his final general audience before resigning Thursday.

Nuns, priests and whole families had flocked to the Vatican to get a front-row view of the pope, waving flags and holding up banners expressing their love for the 85-year old Benedict.

"Be-ne-dict!" and "Long live the pope!" the crowd chanted in almost stadium-like atmosphere.

"He won't be pope officially any more, but he'll always be special to me," said 12-year old Giulia, who came to see the audience his last major public act before stepping down with her school class.

"He did the right thing resigning, he's old and we don't want him to do too much and die, he needs a rest," her friend Sara said, as she snacked on sweets in front St Peter's, where an estimated 150,000 people gathered to say goodbye.

Priests wearing paper hats made out of the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire to shield them from the hot Roman sun could also be seen in the heaving square, where hundreds of church groups had seats in front of the basilica.

"I love the pope, I'm sad that he's leaving, but he has made a grand gesture of love for the Church," said Giuseppe Fan from Vietnam, who is training to be a priest, as he stood on tiptoe on the steps surrounding a fountain to get a good view.

Pilgrims holding banners reading "Benedict, be pope again!" and "Benedict, change your mind!" chanted the pope's name as he rode past them in the pope mobile, with Swiss guards standing by to control the ecstatic crowds.

"You Will Always Be in Our Heart!" read one sign.

"I have come to show how much I appreciate what Benedict has done for us over the last eight years. He resigned without bitterness, but with sweetness and serenity," said Father Giulio, 67, as the organ of St Peter's Basilica rang out.

A woman clutching a rosary wiped away tears as the elderly Benedict passed. One of the hundreds of cardinals and bishops in their red and purple-sashed robes could also be seen tearing up.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics climbed a podium before raising both hands in his trademark greeting and delivering a speech in which he said God would not allow the Church to sink.

"The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good," the Pope told a massive crowd.

"There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds.

He thanked his flock for respecting his decision to retire.

"To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself," Benedict said to thundering applause.

He recalled that when he was elected on April 19, 2005, he questioned if God truly wanted it. "It's a great burden that you've placed on my shoulders," he recalled telling God.


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