‘There were times when it seemed the Lord was sleeping’: Pope’s extraordinary confession to tens of thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square for final audience
- Pope is due to officially retire tomorrow at 8pm
- He will become the first pontiff to resign in 600 years
- Makes several rounds of St. Peter’s Square to acknowledge crowd
- Said his decision to quit was for the ‘good of the Church’
- He has arranged for Turin Shroud to go on display as a ‘last gift’
PUBLISHED: 05:29 EST, 27 February 2013 | UPDATED: 11:46 EST, 27 February 2013
Tens of thousands of people jammed into St. Peter’s Square today to bid Pope Benedict XVI a final farewell at his final general audience before he becomes the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
The pope greeted the adoring crowds by making several rounds of the square in his popemobile, as he was cheered wildly. He stopped to kiss a half-dozen children brought up to him by his secretary.
During a poignant final audience speech he said there had been moments of joy but at times it had ‘seemed like the Lord was sleeping’.
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He said he understood the gravity of his decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years but said he had done it for the ‘good of the Church’.
He said: ‘I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and rarity but also with profound serenity of spirit.’
He said he was not ‘coming down from the cross’ despite renouncing his office but would remain in the service of the church through prayer. He asked the faithful to pray for the cardinals and whoever they chose as his successor.
He said that ‘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 thanked his cardinals, colleagues and ordinary faithful for their support and for respecting his decision to become the first pope in 600 years to resign.
Worshippers unfurled banners saying ‘Thank you!’ as the Pope prepared for his final general audience, the appointment he kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.
St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican was rammed with tens of thousands of devout pilgrims wishing to see the Pope one last time before he retires
St. Peter’s was overflowing and pilgrims and curiosity-seekers were picking spots along the main boulevard nearby to watch the event on giant TV screens.
Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict’s final master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.
With chants of ‘Benedetto’ erupting every so often, the mood – even hours before Benedict was to arrive – was far more buoyant than during the pope’s final Sunday blessing and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
‘It’s difficult – the emotion is so big,’ said Jan Marie, a 53-year-old Roman in his first years as a seminarian. ‘We came to support the pope’s decision, and feel the air of the church.’
The pope will become the first pontiff to resign in 600 years when he steps down tomorrow
Benedict on Thursday will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, a decision he said he took after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn’t have the strength of mind or body to carry on.
After his general audience Wednesday, he will meet Thursday morning with cardinals for a final time, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
There, at 8 pm, when his pontificate officially ends, the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over – for now.
The pope will be left in the care of his butler, two secretaries and four memores, the laywomen who care for him.
He is due to spend two months at the Castel while workers prepare more permanent lodgings in a convent inside the Vatican where he has said he will live out the rest of his life, ‘hidden to the world’.
The town of Castel Gandolfo has been the chosen destination for popes wanting to escape the sweltering Roman summer for over 400 years.
Originally a small fortress belonging to the Savelli family, it was claimed by the Church back in 1596. Some 30 years later, after Pope Urban VIII built a new wing overlooking Lake Albano, it officially became the pope’s summer residence.
Famed Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini later developed a second wing, and the estate expanded over the years as the church bought up surrounding villas and their land.
Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict’s successor were in St. Peter’s Square for his final audience, including retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, object of a grass-roots campaign in the U.S. to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will vote.
Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting on Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to elect the next pope.
But the rank-and-file in the crowd on Wednesday weren’t so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for eight years.
‘I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church,’ said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old homemaker who traveled by train early Wednesday from Lugo, near Ravenna, with some 60 members of her parish.
‘There’s nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won’t leave us without a guide.’
POPE ARRANGES FOR TURIN SHROUD TO GO ON DISPLAY AS HIS ‘LAST GIFT’
The mystical Shroud of Turin will go on display next month – after Pope Benedict XVI gave the go ahead in what Vatican sources said was his ‘last gift’ to the Roman Catholic Church.
TV cameras will be allowed to broadcast images of one of Christianity’s most mysterious relics, which is believed to have covered the body of Christ following his death and which is particularly poignant to Pope Benedict XVI who will officially retire later this week.
Thirteen years ago when the Pope was cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote the Shroud was ‘a truly mysterious image, which no human artistry was capable of producing.
‘In some inexplicable way, it appeared imprinted upon cloth and claimed to show the true face of Christ, the crucified and risen Lord.’
In May 2010, five years after he became Pope he authorised a public viewing of the Shroud – the first since 2000 and also 15 years ahead of its next scheduled public display.
He was one of two million people who went to Turin Cathedral where the Shroud was displayed and where among the visitors was former prime minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie, who along with her husband is a devout Roman Catholic.
The showing three years ago was only the fifth time in 100 years that it has been viewed publicly and the latest will take place on Easter Saturday (30th March) with further details due to be announced by monsignor Cesare Nosiglia, the Archbishop of Turin and the Pontifical Curator of the Shroud.
When the Pope saw the Shroud three years ago he spent several minutes kneeling in front of the 14ft long linen cloth, which bears the faint image of the front and back of a tall, long-haired, bearded man and appears to be stained by blood from wounds in his feet, wrists and side.
The Shroud, worthy of a Dan Brown thriller, has captivated the imagination of historians, church chiefs, sceptics and Catholics for more than 500 years.
It even gripped occult obsessed Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler who wanted to steal it so he could use it in a black magic ceremony, a monk revealed for the first time last month.
It is believed by many to have been the burial cloth used to cover Christ’s body but others have dismissed it as a elaborate fake from the Middle Ages.
After praying silently in front of the Shroud, which is kept in a bullet proof climate controlled glass case, in the cathedral of the northern Italian city of Turin, Pope Benedict described it as ”an extraordinary icon’.
He said:’It is a burial cloth that covered a crucified man in correspondence with what the Gospels tell us. Jesus remained in the tomb until dawn the day after Holy Saturday and it offers us a picture of how his body was, lying in the tomb, which was short in time but infinitive in significance and value.’
Pope Benedict added that the Shroud also offered ”light in darkness” as it allowed people to see the ”victory of live over death.” Christians believe that three days after he was crucified Christ rose from the dead.
A Vatican source said:”The Holy Father was particularly taken when he saw the Shroud on his visit to Turin and it is a striking symbol of faith. He agreed to its display on Easter Saturday because it is the day before Easter Sunday, the day Christ rose which is the corner stone of Catholic faith.
‘In effect its perhaps one of his last gifts to the faithful – allowing them to see the Shroud, so they can see this extraordinary icon for themselves and its also connected to the current Year of Faith which Pope Benedict opened.’
Italian state TV will broadcast footage of the Shroud but it is not thought that general public access will be allowed until 2025 the date of the next scheduled display.
For centuries debate has raged whether the image is that of Christ or an expert forgery from the Middle Ages but what is certain is that experts have never really been able to explain how the image was made.
Carbon-dating tests were conducted on the cloth in 1988 and suggested it was from between 1260 and 1390, other scientists have since claimed that contamination over the ages, from water damage and fire, were not taken sufficiently into account and could have distorted the results.
As a result of controversy and the fact that dating techniques have improved significantly since the 1988 tests were done, there have been numerous calls for further testing but the Vatican has always refused.
The Shroud was given to the Turin archbishop in 1578 by the Duke of Savoy and has been kept in the Cathedral ever since.