Feb 27, 2013 Comments Off on Thousands Jam St. Peter’s Square For Pope’s Last General Audience Jake Hammer
Excerpted from LA TIMES: VATICAN CITY — Before tens of thousands of people under clear blue skies, Pope Benedict XVI recalled a papacy full of both joy and difficulty as he held his final general audience Wednesday, the eve of his retirement as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.
Cheers filled St. Peter’s Square as Benedict rode his special Popemobile amid the crowds who had started gathering early in the morning. National flags fluttered alongside banners bearing the simple word “Grazie,” or “thanks.”
It was one of the largest crowds to turn out for Benedict in the colonnaded piazza since he was elevated to the papacy nearly eight years ago. The 85-year-old pope, seated under a canopy on the steps of the grand basilica, responded in several languages to the greetings and tributes read to him from around the world.
He thanked the faithful for their support of his decision to bow to his failing health and become the first pontiff in 600 years to give up the post.
“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,” said Benedict, his voice slightly hoarse but unwavering.
“I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy,” he added. “I felt like St. Peter with the apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. … I always knew that the Lord was in that boat, and I always was aware that the boat of the Church was not mine, was not ours, but it belonged to Him.”
Benedict vowed to continue serving God in his retirement to a renovated monastery in the Vatican Gardens, a stone’s throw from the papal apartment he currently occupies.
“I no longer bear the power of office of government of the church but remain in the service of prayer,” he said, adding that, as pope, he belonged to everyone and would continue to belong to everyone the rest of his life.