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Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio Becomes Pope Francis

pope-francisWhen Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday to reveal himself as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.

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ROME, Italy (KTLA) — Catholic cardinals are meeting for the third straight day at the Vatican as they prepare to begin the process of selecting a new pope.

No date has been set for the conclave yet, but the cardinals are already conducting business, as they get together for the first time to talk and disagree.

vatican-picAs soon as we touched down in Rome, we couldn’t help but start looking for stories.

We started shooting right out the window of our taxi, setting the stage for our KTLA coverage in Italy.

Even without this historic conclave, the breathtaking Vatican City is a tourist destination every minute of the day.

“Oh, we’re very excited,” said Danny Grant, who is visiting with his wife Suzanne from Houston. They planned their trip a year ago.

“Yesterday we got into the Sistine Chapel and the museums and then they’re closed today. We’re so lucky,” Suzanne said.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing to be at,” Danny reflected. “I just can’t imagine.”

We spoke to another couple from Germany, who came specifically to see their German pope, Benedict XVI, but they missed him by a matter of days.

The world is now watching the Vatican. Cameras, reporters and international journalists are everywhere.

The cardinals, of course, are out of sight to most people on the street.

And very soon, they’ll be locked away in the conclave, only to emerge when they have agreed on who will be the next pope.

The conclave will be very secretive. The world will know when a new pope has been picked when white smoke comes from the Sistine Chapel.

KTLA had an interview scheduled with a representative from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but he had to cancel.

He said that all the cardinals have been told that they are not allowed to speak to reporters. They also won’t be able to use their cell phones during the conclave.

–Lynette Romero, KTLA News

ROME (CNN) — Catholic cardinals are meeting for a second day Tuesday at the Vatican, as they prepare to set a timetable for selecting a new pope.

More cardinals are arriving Tuesday morning, so there should be fewer than eight cardinal-electors still to come, said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman.

The cardinal-electors, those younger than 80 who are eligible to vote for the new pontiff, are thought to number 115 in total.

Those cardinals already in Rome met twice Monday, in the morning and in the evening, as they began a series of meetings known as General Congregations.

After the morning session — attended by 142 cardinals, 103 of whom were cardinal electors — a decision had not been made on when the conclave to select Pope Benedict XVI’s successor would start, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.

“It’s on the table, but no decision has been reached,” Lombardi said.

The group decided that congregations on Tuesday and Wednesday would take place in the morning only, he added.

The General Congregations are a key step before the conclave, in which all cardinals younger than 80 meet in the Vatican to vote for the next pope.

The famous Sistine Chapel, where the secretive conclave takes place, was closed to the public at lunchtime Tuesday and will remain so until further notice, the official Vatican Museums website said.

According to Italian media reports, discussions Monday focused on an internal investigation into leaks from the Vatican, the outcome of which has so far been seen only by Benedict, and the church’s handling of the scandal over child sex abuse by priests.

The cardinals also talked about the kind of pope they want to see at the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Transfer of power

Representatives of a support group for abuse victims, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called Monday for the cardinals to elect a new pope who is not a Vatican insider.

The group also called for some of the older cardinals to absent themselves from the General Congregations, arguing that some have been accused of complicity in protecting priests accused of sexually abusing children.

“Their peers should push them to stay home, or they should do so voluntarily, the group feels, for the sake of the church and to avoid heaping more pain on wounded victims and betrayed Catholics,” a statement on SNAP’s website said.

One of Italy’s anti-clerical abuse networks, L’Abuso, petitioned senior Vatican Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Monday not to allow the participation of an Italian cardinal it alleges helped protect priests who molested minors in the past.

Benedict announced his intention to step down on February 11 and resigned Thursday, becoming the first pope to do so in almost 600 years. The transfer of papal power has almost always happened after the sitting pope has died.

Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant. However, Benedict amended the 500-year-old policy to get a successor into place more rapidly.

The cardinals may to be able to do so before March 15, Lombardi has said.

This would give the new pontiff more than a week to prepare for the March 24 Palm Sunday celebrations.

Some gambling houses are offering odds on who will next lead the Catholic Church.

Favorites include the archbishop of Milan, Italy, Cardinal Angelo Scola; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Italy; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who would become the first African pontiff since Pope Gelasius I died more than 1,500 years ago; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, who would become the first North American pope.

Wounded ‘hearts and minds’

One former cardinal who won’t participate in the conclave is Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who resigned last month. O’Brien apologized Sunday for sexual impropriety, without specifying any incident.

“To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” he said in a statement.

The Vatican refused to answer questions Monday about whether it would discipline O’Brien.

But others did comment.

“It looks as if the incidence of abuse is practically zero right now as far as we can tell, but they are still the victims, and the wound therefore is deep in their hearts and minds very often,” Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, told reporters in Rome. “As long as it’s with them, it’s with all of us. And that will last for a long time, so the next pope has to be aware of this.”

Philip Tartaglia, the archbishop of Glasgow and apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, will administer O’Brien’s archdiocese until a new appointment is made.

“The most stinging charge which has been leveled against us in this matter is hypocrisy, and for obvious reasons,” Tartaglia said Monday night in a sermon at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow. “I think there is little doubt that the credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been dealt a serious blow, and we will need to come to terms with that.”

While Benedict has no direct involvement in the selection of his successor, his influence will be felt: He appointed 67 of at least 115 cardinals set to make the decision.

Cardinals must vote in person, via paper ballot. Once the process begins, the cardinals aren’t allowed to talk with anyone outside of the conclave. They cannot leave until white smoke emerges from the Vatican chimney — the signal that a new leader has been picked.

Lombardi said Monday that 4,300 journalists have been accredited to cover the papal conclave.

LOS ANGELES — Responding to protests over his attendance at the conclave in Rome to elect a new pope, Cardinal Roger Mahony told Catholic News Service this week that the Vatican told him to come to Rome and participate.

“Without my even having to inquire, the nuncio in Washington phoned me a week or so ago and said, ‘I have had word from the highest folks in the Vatican: You are to come to Rome and you are to participate in the conclave,’” Mahony told the news service.

The retired cardinal has been under fire for his handling of sexual abuse cases, particularly his role in hiding molestations by priests from authorities. The cover-ups were revealed with the recent release of thousands of pages of detailed court documents about the cases.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, Mahony’s successor as head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, removed Mahony from all public duties once the court documents became public.

But shortly after Pope Benedict XVI announced he would retire at the end of last month, Mahony announced on his blog that he would attend the conclave to elect the next pope. The announcement touched off a fresh storm of protest against Mahony, who has been using his blog and Twitter account to defend himself.

Now in Rome for the conclave, Mahony has been keeping a high profile and tweeting regularly.

Los Angeles Times

ROME (CNN) — The cardinals who will elect the new pope following the historic resignation of Benedict XVI are continuing to make their way to Rome, the Vatican said Saturday (Mar. 2), with some likely to arrive only Monday or Tuesday.

The first of a series of meetings known as general congregations takes place Monday morning — and a priority for the cardinals attending will be setting a date for the special election, or conclave, held to pick the next pope.

The Vatican has said it’s not sure whether a date will be agreed on as soon as Monday.

If cardinals are still arriving as the general congregations start, the timetable may be delayed.

The cardinals will also hold important discussions on the future direction of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been beset by scandal in recent years, and the kind of leader they want to see at the helm.

All the cardinals attend the general congregations, but only cardinals who are younger than 80 are eligible to vote for the new pope in the conclave. They are expected to number 115, the Vatican has said.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Saturday that 75 cardinals normally live in Rome and another 66 have arrived or are in the process of arriving, making 141 in total.

Most of the cardinals who live in Rome are retired and/or over the age of 80, and therefore are not entitled to vote for the new pope.

It’s not clear how many of the cardinals now in Rome are among those who can vote.

The Sistine Chapel, where the cardinal-electors meet for the secretive conclave, is not yet being prepared for the process, Lombardi said.

Tourists and pilgrims are continuing to visit the Sistine Chapel — famed for the ceiling painted by Michelangelo — at the moment, Lombardi said.

Rome (CNN) — With the dust still settling from Benedict XVI’s historic resignation as pope, the focus in Rome turns to the future Friday as Roman Catholic cardinals prepare to meet to discuss a timetable for picking the new pontiff.

A letter issued by the dean of the College of Cardinals on Friday calls the cardinals to come together Monday morning for the first in a series of meetings, known as general congregations.

final-remarks-picThere will be a second session Monday afternoon, according to the letter from Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

One of the cardinals’ first tasks will be agreeing when to hold the secret election, or conclave, in which they will pick Benedict’s successor.

However, the date for the conclave may not be set Monday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Friday.

The cardinals will also hold important discussions on the future direction of the church, which has been beset by scandal in recent years, and the kind of leader they want to see at the helm.

CNN Vatican Analyst John Allen, also a correspondent with the National Catholic Reporter, wrote that the cardinals’ scheduled afternoon session represents a break from practice last time around.

“The first order of business is to establish the start date for the conclave, and the fact they’re going back to work in the afternoon suggests there’s a desire to try to get that nailed down as quickly as possible,” he said.

All the cardinals attend the general congregations, but only cardinals who are younger than 80 are eligible to vote for the new pope in the conclave. They are expected to number 115, the Vatican has said.

How many cardinals are now gathered in Rome is not yet known, Lombardi said. Some will have received the invitation to Monday’s general congregation by fax, others via e-mail, he added.

Quiet life

Benedict, meanwhile, has embarked on the first day of his new life of seclusion following his televised departure from Vatican City on Thursday.

Benedict, who will now be known as pontiff emeritus, will spend the next few weeks at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, before moving to a small monastery within the Vatican grounds.

After his resignation took effect Thursday night, he had a good dinner, watched Italian TV newscasts about his last day, performed his regular evening prayers and read messages sent to him about his retirement, according to the Rev. Thomas Rosica, another Vatican spokesman.

The pope emeritus also went for an after-dinner walk in the corridors of the centuries-old Castel Gandolfo, sited on a quiet hilltop overlooking a lake.

Benedict XVI slept well, Rosica said, citing his personal secretary, Georg Gaenswein.

In the weeks leading up to his retirement, the pope played piano every night after dinner, but didn’t on the night of his retirement because he was watching TV, Rosica said, citing Gaenswein.

The pope emeritus brought several books of theology and church history to Castel Gandolfo, the spokesman said. He is also expected to resume playing the piano after dinner.

On Friday, he celebrated morning Mass and will spend time in the Castel Gandolfo gardens, saying the rosary.

He is the first pope to resign in six centuries, and his departure — after nearly eight years at the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics — ushers in a period of great uncertainty for the church.

‘Just a pilgrim’

Benedict’s final public words were given to about 10,000 people who had gathered at Castel Gandolfo to bid him an emotional farewell.

“I am no longer the pope, but I am still in the church. I’m just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he said.

“I would still — with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection and with all my inner strength — like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity.”

Whoever steps into Benedict’s red papal shoes will be expected to deal with unresolved questions about alleged corruption, child sex abuse by priests, leaks from inside the Vatican and, most recently, Italian media reports alleging an episode involving gay priests, male prostitutes and blackmail.

On his last day as pope, Benedict made a pledge of “unconditional obedience” and respect to whoever takes up the reins.

His promise came in a final meeting with the cardinals who will pick his successor, almost certainly from within their own ranks.

More than half the 115 cardinal-electors expected to take part in the conclave were appointed by Benedict, suggesting his influence will live on.

However, the Vatican has said that he won’t interfere in the new pope’s running of the church.

The situation of having a living pontiff in retirement is almost unprecedented for the church.

Video footage released by the Vatican on Friday showed the doors to the papal apartment there being ceremonially sealed by senior officials. They will remain closed until a new pope enters.

The Vatican has said it wants to have the next pontiff in place for the week of services leading up to Easter Sunday on March 31.

CNN iReporter Rummel Pinera, a blogger and campaigner from the Philippines, said Benedict’s departure raises interesting questions for the Catholic Church — such as whether to accept women priests, or a pope from Africa or Latin America, and whether to approve stem cell research.

“I’m hoping that Benedict XVI’s successor will be open to progressive ideas, so that the Roman Catholic Church would be seen as a dynamic institution that can adopt to modern day situations,” he said.

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Activists have begun a petition drive to get Cardinal Roger Mahony removed from the process of selecting the next pope.

Cardinal Mahony is at the Vatican and met with the pope Thursday asking Benedict to pray for the people of Los Angeles.

Mahony is facing renewed scrutiny for his role in the cover up of alleged sexual abuse by priests.

At least two activist groups want to stop Cardinal Mahony from participating in the election of the new pope.

The groups say they have already collected about 10,000 signatures on a petition.

The archdiocese of Los Angeles says that church law requires that Mahony attend the proceedings at the Vatican.

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — Benedict XVI’s time as pope came to a historic end Thursday, as he became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, who now number 1.2 billion.

Torchlit crowds stood before the gates of the Castel Gandolfo residence, waiting to see the Swiss Guards, the soldiers who traditionally protect the pope, salute and close the doors on the stroke of 8 p.m.

The guards’ departure from the papal summer home brings Benedict’s papacy to a formal end. The protection of Benedict there falls now to Vatican police.

The process of transition to that new pope now begins. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is without a leader.

Symbolizing that gulf at the top, all Benedict’s tweets as @Pontifex have been archived. Instead, the account’s Twitter page reads only “Sede Vacante,” or empty seat.

Earlier, his final words were given to some 10,000 people who had gathered at Castel Gandolfo to bid him an emotional farewell.

“I am no longer the pope but I am still in the church. I’m just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he said.

He thanked them for their friendship, on a day “different for me than the preceding ones” — and indeed almost unprecedented for the Roman Catholic Church.

“I would still — with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength — like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity,” he said.

“I feel very supported by your kindness. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you.”

Smiling slightly, he made the sign of the cross to bless the crowds and disappeared into the building.

It is likely to be the last time he is seen in public.

Benedict, who will now be known as “pontiff emeritus,” will spend the next few weeks at the peaceful, hilltop Castel Gandolfo residence before moving to a small monastery within the Vatican grounds.

The first pope to resign in 598 years, his departure ushers in a period of great uncertainty for the church as the cardinals work to elect the next pontiff.

Pomp and ceremony

Benedict earlier left Vatican City for the last time as pope amid pomp and ceremony.

An honor guard of Swiss Guards lined up to bid him farewell as, looking frail and carrying a cane, he left the papal apartment to applause from senior Vatican officials and staff.

The sound of bells from St. Peter’s Basilica chimed across the city of Rome as the helicopter carrying him to Castel Gandolfo looped overhead, passing above landmarks like the Colosseum.

Although Benedict will eventually return to Vatican City to live out his days, he will never again set foot there as pope.

Seals will be placed on the entrance to the pope’s Vatican apartment, the Vatican said — to be removed only when the next pontiff enters.

His symbolic Fisherman’s Ring and papal seal will be “destroyed” by means of making scratch marks so that they can no longer be used to seal documents, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Benedict’s final tweet, sent at 11 a.m. ET from his @Pontifex account, read: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

The account will remain dormant until the next pope decides whether he wants to use it, the Vatican said.

‘Unconditional obedience’

Benedict entered his final day as pontiff with an unusual act — a pledge of “unconditional obedience” and respect to whoever takes up the reins after his dramatic resignation later.

His promise came in a last meeting Thursday morning with the cardinals who will pick his successor, almost certainly from within their own ranks.

“I will continue to serve you in prayer, in particular in the coming days, so that you may be touched by the Holy Spirit in the election of a new pope,” he said.

His words appeared designed to answer concerns that the presence of a former pontiff might lead to confusion or competing loyalties once the new pope is installed.

Benedict told the cardinals it was a “joy to walk with you” during his nearly eight tumultuous years at the head of all Catholics worldwide.

Another Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Roscia, said he believed 144 cardinals had attended Benedict XVI’s farewell to them as pope. That includes both cardinal-electors, who are under the age of 80, and cardinals who are not eligible to vote for the next pope.

Not all the 115 cardinals eligible to vote were present, Lombardi said.

Two cardinals are suffering ill health, making their attendance uncertain, although arrangements may be made to enable them to vote, Roscia said.

The Vatican has said it wants to have the next pontiff in place in time for the week of services leading up to Easter Sunday on March 31.

A series of meetings to set the timetable for the conclave — the closed-door assembly to elect a new pope — will begin early next week, said Lombardi. The cardinals will receive the formal invitation to attend on Friday.

The meetings, known as general congregations, bring together all the cardinals, electors and non-electors, before the conclave begins. They are intended to be an opportunity to reflect on the current state of the church.

Secret election

In their meeting Thursday morning, the cardinals gave Benedict a standing ovation, and then one by one each met Benedict to say a final few words.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Texas said at a news conference held with fellow U.S. cardinals that it had been “a very moving moment with Pope Benedict.”

“There was a note of sadness in saying farewell to this man who has been our spiritual father for the last eight years,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

“At the same time it was very edifying to see how much people love him and respect him.”

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, tweeted after meeting Benedict that he had asked Benedict to pray for the people of Los Angeles. “He grasped my hand and said ‘Yes’!!” Mahony said.

The current Catholic archbishop in Los Angeles earlier this month disciplined Mahony for his mishandling of “painful and brutal” allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Mahony’s decision to travel to Rome to take part in the election of the new pope has been controversial because of that.

DiNardo and O’Malley said they would pray for guidance in choosing the new pope.

“I consider it one of the most important activities that I will be engaged in as a priest and a cardinal,” said O’Malley, for whom the conclave will be his first.

“I think the discussions that we will have in the congregations will be the most important intellectual preparation that we have — certainly the spiritual preparation has already begun.

“Our people back home and throughout the world are all praying that we will be guided to be able to choose the very best person to lead us.”

Twitter shutdown

Cardinals are forbidden to communicate with the outside world — now including by Twitter — during the conclave, held within the Sistine Chapel. There is no Internet access inside Santa Marta, where the cardinals will stay during the conclave, Lombardi said.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, tipped as a possible future pope, tweeted Thursday morning that he would be away for a few days.

A number of other cardinals, including Ghanaian Peter Turkson, also considered a frontrunner, and New York’s Timothy Dolan are also present on Twitter.

Benedict, who will not be involved in the election, will not get any advance notice of who his successor will be, Roscia said. The pope emeritus will find out who has been elected at the same time as the rest of the world.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, who turned 80 last month and so is not a cardinal-elector, would not be drawn to comment Wednesday on who the next pope might be.

As to whether the cardinals are talking to each other about it now, he told CNN: “There are contacts, of course there are contacts. But what people talk about, who knows?

“There is a saying in Rome: He who enters the conclave as a possible pope comes out a cardinal.”

Mired in scandal

Benedict’s resignation opens up the prospect of unforeseen opportunities and challenges for the Roman Catholic Church.

Many are wondering whether a new pontiff will choose to lead the church in a different direction — and can lift it out of the mire of scandal that has bogged down this pope’s time in office.

Even as Benedict’s final week began, Vatican officials were trying to swat down unsavory claims by Italian publications of an episode involving gay priests, male prostitutes and blackmail. Then the news broke that Benedict had moved up the resignation of a Scottish archbishop linked over the weekend by a British newspaper to inappropriate relationships with priests.

Last year, leaks of secret documents from the pope’s private apartment — which revealed claims of corruption within the Vatican — prompted a high-profile trial of his butler and a behind-doors investigation by three cardinals.

Their report, its contents known so far only to Benedict, will be handed to his successor to deal with, the Vatican said.

Vatican magistrates may have authorized the tapping of two or three telephone lines during the cardinals’ inquiry into the leaks, Lombardi acknowledged Thursday, responding to a report in the Italian weekly magazine Panorama that claimed a large-scale surveillance operation had been run.

Lombardi denied there had been “a massive” operation on the scale reported by the magazine, saying there is “no foundation” for the article. Roscia said that if there was any wiretapping or surveillance, “it’s a very small process.”

Both spokesmen denied that the operation had been ordered by the three cardinals, saying that if it had happened, it was ordered by magistrates.

At the same time, the church faces continued anger about what many see as its failure to deal with child sex abuse by priests.

So, when Benedict announced on February 11 that he would step down, there was inevitable speculation that his move was in some way linked to the brewing scandals.

Dolan, the most senior Catholic cleric in the United States, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that there was an urgent need for a recovery and renewal in the church

The new pope won’t seek to alter the teachings of the church, but could change the way they are presented, Dolan said.

‘The Lord seemed to sleep’

The danger for the Vatican is that the scandals risk overshadowing what others see as Benedict’s real legacy to the church: his teaching and writings, including three papal encyclicals.

Proof of the Vatican’s irritation came with a stinging statement Saturday complaining of “unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories,” even suggesting the media is trying to influence the election of the next pope.

The constant buffeting by scandal will doubtless also have taken a toll on an 85-year-old man whose interests lie in scholarly study and prayer rather than damage control.

Benedict suggested as much at his final general audience Wednesday, when in front of cheering crowds in St. Peter’s Square he spoke of steering the church through sometimes choppy waters.

There had been “many days of sunshine,” he said, but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

Benedict also called for a renewal of faith, and for the prayers of Catholics around the world both for him and his successor.

Italian iReporter Giovanni Francia was in St. Peter’s Square to witness the scene. “There was a good atmosphere, (but) full of the sense we have lost a sort of ‘grandfather,’” he said. “Now we are a little more alone.”

VATICAN CITY — In front of rapt crowds, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy Wednesday during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square.

In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

Sara Welch has more.

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — In front of rapt crowds, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy Wednesday during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square.

In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

But even as the church passes through stormy seas, God will “not let her sink,” he added, in what was his final general audience before he steps down Thursday evening.

Those words will be seen by many as a comment on the series of child sex abuse scandals and corruption claims that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the course of his pontificate.

Benedict recounted how when he was asked to be pope eight years ago, he had prayed for God’s guidance and had felt his presence “every day” since.

“It was a part of the journey of the church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy,” he said.

Tough choices’

Dressed all in white and looking serene, the pope used his last general audience to call for a renewal of faith and speak of his own spiritual journey through eight years as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Benedict thanked the cardinals, the clergy in Rome, Vatican officials and priests worldwide for their work, as well as their congregations, saying “the heart of a pope extends to the whole world.”

Knowing his strength was fading, he had taken the step of resignation well aware of its gravity and novelty, but also “with a deep peace of mind,” he said.

“Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices,” he said, as he called on the faithful to pray for him and the new pope.

Benedict gave an insight into the life of the pontiff, describing it as without any kind of privacy, with his time devoted entirely to the church — perhaps particularly difficult for a man known for his love of scholarship.

His life in retirement will be “simply a return to the private place. My decision is to forgo the exercise of active ministry, not revoke it.

In order to return to private life, not to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on,” he said.

As he finished, cheers erupted from the tens of thousands gathered in the square — acknowledged by Benedict with an open-armed embrace.

‘Support and love’

Vatican officials said 50,000 tickets had been handed out for Benedict’s last general audience — but authorities said they had prepared for as many as 200,000 people to show up to witness the historic moment in person.

Benedict, who spoke first in Italian, also gave greetings in French, German and English, among other languages, reflecting the church’s global reach.

CNN iReporter Joel Camaya, a priest from the Philippines who is studying in Rome, said it was very moving to be among those gathered in the huge plaza.

Waves of applause rose up to meet Benedict, especially when he addressed the pilgrims in different languages. “I really felt all the support and all the love, the prayers, from those who were present,” he said.

After the pope left, people’s mood was festive, with many chatting or singing, Camaya said, but at the same time nostalgic because it’s the last time they will hear Benedict speak.

“Especially for people who have got used coming here for the audience and for the (Sunday) Angelus, it’s something to be missed,” he said.

Those lucky enough to have tickets for the final audience listened from seats in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Among them were many of the Roman Catholic Church’s senior clergy. Others packed around the edges of the square and surrounding side streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

Among the crowds were groups of pilgrims who had traveled to Rome for the special occasion, as well as local residents and curious visitors keen to share in the moment.

Benedict arrived and left in his Popemobile, allowing him to pass close by many people in St. Peter’s Square.

Standing in the glass-topped vehicle, flanked by security, he waved as he slowly made his way along pathways through the crowds. Some waved flags and banners as they stood under cold but clear skies.

Normally in winter, the pope would give his weekly Wednesday general audience inside a hall within Vatican City, but the event was moved outside because of the anticipated huge crowds.

Pontiff emeritus

The pope didn’t give the usual brief personal greetings to people afterward, but was to meet with delegations of heads of state in Vatican City.

Benedict, who stunned the world’s Catholics when he announced his resignation just over two weeks ago, will leave office at 8 p.m. local time Thursday.

At that point, a transition period will begin, as around 115 cardinals gather in Rome to pick a successor in a secretive election known as a conclave.

The Vatican has been rewriting the rules to cope with an almost unprecedented situation — Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

He will meet with the cardinals Wednesday and Thursday, before being flown by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

There, from a balcony, he will greet crowds one last time before his resignation takes effect and the Swiss Guards, who by tradition protect the pope, ceremonially leave the residence’s gate.

More details were given Tuesday of how the 85-year-old’s life in retirement will play out.

He will keep the papal title Benedict XVI, rather than reverting to the name Joseph Ratzinger, and will be referred to as “his holiness,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

He will also go by the title his holiness “pontiff emeritus” or “pope emeritus.”

Interference fears

Living out of the public eye in a small monastery within Vatican City, Benedict will wear a simple white robe, without the papal red cape, and will swap his red shoes for brown ones.

He is expected to devote his time to prayer and study.

Catholic author Michael Walsh told CNN he was unsurprised by Benedict’s desire for more privacy.

“He’s a rather private man. He wants to get back to his books and his cats, he wants to get back to prayer,” he said. “He’s obviously coming towards the end of his life — he’s 85 — so I understand that.”

But, Walsh added, “what I don’t understand is that he says he wants to be part of it all, which could be disastrous if you take it at face value,” referring to Benedict’s promise not to abandon the church.

“The notion that you have two people that claim to be pope, in a sense, is really going to be very confusing,” Walsh said.

Vatican officials have said they don’t anticipate any interference from Benedict as a new pope takes office.

However, his influence will be felt in as much as he appointed 67 of the cardinals who will enter the conclave.

Whoever his successor may be will have plenty on his plate, from allegations swirling in the Italian media that gay clergy may have made themselves vulnerable to blackmail by male prostitutes — a claim forcefully denied by the Vatican — to the festering issue of the church’s handling of child abuse by priests.

Scandal flared again over the weekend, as Scotland’s Roman Catholic archbishop was accused in a UK newspaper report of “inappropriate behavior” with priests. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who contests the allegations, resigned Monday and said he would not attend the conclave.

The Most Rev. Philip Tartaglia, archbishop of Glasgow, will take his place until a new archbishop is appointed, the Vatican said Wednesday. “These are painful and distressing times,” Tartaglia is quoted as saying.

The Vatican said Monday that a report by three cardinals into leaks of secret Vatican documents, ordered by Benedict last year and seen only by him, would be passed on to the new pontiff.

Cardinals’ conclave

Meanwhile, the cardinals who must elect the new pope are already gathering in Rome, Lombardi said.

The dean cardinal will on Friday summon the cardinals to a general congregation, Lombardi said. That could come as soon as Monday, although the date is not yet fixed.

The cardinal-electors will then decide exactly when to hold the conclave, during which they will select a peer via paper ballot. The voting process will end when only when one cardinal gains two-thirds support.

After his resignation, Benedict, who cited the frailty of age as the reason he resigned, will no longer use the Fisherman’s Ring, the symbol of the pope, Lombardi said.

The ring will be destroyed, along with Benedict’s papal seal, after his departure from office.

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