By BosNewsLife News Center with additional reports from Rome, Vatican City and reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ROME/VATICAN CITY/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– As the doors closed and the Swiss Guards left his summer residence, Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to retire in some 600 years, following a moving farewell address to thousands in which he urged the Catholic Church to remain united in one of the most challenging times in its history.
“As you know, today is different to previous ones,” he told an emotional, cheering crowd in the small town of Castel Gandolfo in his last public remarks as pope. “I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m and then no longer,” he said.
He will remain in Castel Gandolo palace till renovations are completed at the monastery in Vatican City, where he will take up residence, the Vatican said.
Benedict arrived at the papal summer residence south of the capital in a white Italian air force helicopter. Bells rang out from St Peter’s Basilica and churches all over Rome as the helicopter circled Vatican City and flew over the Colosseum and other landmarks to give the pontiff one last view of the city where he is also bishop.
Though he renounced the office of Bishop of Rome, “along with all its powers and responsibilities”, the Pope emeritus keeps the name he took at the beginning of his reign: Benedict XVI, the Vatican explained.
“SIMPLY A PILGRIM”
“I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth,” Benedict XVI said.
The 85-year-old pontiff also pledged “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his eventual successor, as he addressed Roman Cardinals in an earlier, private, farewell at the Vatican. He urged them to unite, saying “among you there is the future pope” whom they will have to choose in the coming weeks.
He leaves behind a denomination in turmoil following several sex-abuse scandals, while the Vatican was shaken by leaked documents about alleged corruption within its ranks.
Yet, the pontiff will also be remembered as a voice for persecuted Christians at a time of increased attacks against churches, BosNewsLife noted.
He often expressed deep concerns about killings of Christians in especially the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where rising Islamic extremism has added to pressure on Catholics and other Christians.
He became pope in 2005 after the death of longtime Pope John Paul II, who played a key role in the overthrow of Communism in his native Poland and other East European countries.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a popular choice within the college of 115 cardinals who elected him as a man who shared the conservative theology of his predecessor and mentor, John Paul II, and seemed ready to take over the job after serving beside him for more than two decades.
However it was also viewed as a transition papacy, with the Vatican website often showing his image shadowed by his popular predecessor.
Born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria, Germany, he was the son of a police officer. He was ordained in 1951, at age 24, and began his career as a liberal academic and theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council, supporting efforts to make the church more open.
But he moved theologically and politically to the right, church observers said.
Pope Paul VI named him bishop of Munich in 1977 and appointed him a cardinal within three months.
Taking the chief doctrinal job at the Vatican in 1981, he moved with vigor to quash liberation theology in Latin America, cracked down on liberal theologians and in 2000 wrote the contentious Vatican document “’Dominus Jesus,” asserting the truth of Catholic belief over others.
It also led to tensions with some dissident priests in Communist nations in the 1980s, including in Hungary where late priest György Bulányi earned the Vatican’s disapproval by his attitude of independence from “the church hierarchy.”
Yet, as pope, he later reached out to other groups within the Catholic Church and different Christian churches amid concern about what he saw as a persecution threat towards all Christians in the world.
He acknowledged this week that the papacy hadn’t been easy for him, compounded by both health difficulties and a crisis within the church of an estimated 1.2 billion people.
“[These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments,” Benedict told the faithful during his final general audience of his pontificate on Wednesday, February 26, in St Peter’s Square.
“I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant,” he recalled.
“[then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink.”
The last pontiff to resign was Gregory XII, who left the papacy in 1415 to end what was known as the Western Schism among numerous competitors for the papacy.
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