Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his last Sunday address to crowds in St. Peter's Square before his abdication. He said he was not abandoning the church, and his future would be dedicated to meditation and prayer.
Police estimated that 100,000 people packed the Vatican City's public plaza to hear the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics deliver his final noon Sunday Angelus blessing in various languages from his Vatican apartment window.
Flags in the crowd represented many nations, with a large number from Brazil.
Next Wednesday, he will hold his last general audience in St. Peter's Square and enter retirement on Thursday, by traveling to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome for two or three months.
Renovations are being made to a monastery inside the Vatican grounds where he will spend his last years.
Meditation, not abandonment
The 85-year-old pontiff told Sunday's crowd that he would continue to serve the church "in a way that is more commensurate to my age and my strength".
"But this does not mean abandoning the Church, on the contrary," Benedict added.
"The Lord is calling me to climb onto the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation," he said to cheers of "Long Live the Pope."
His retirement announcement two weeks ago shocked the world and brought Benedict's pontificate to an unusual end, after eight years dominated by scandals ranging from sexual abuse of children by priests to his efforts to counter rising secularism.
Benedict will be only the second pope to resign of his own free will in the Church's 2,000-year history, and the first to do so since the Middle Ages.
His decision set off a rumor mill, with speculative reports in some Italian media. The Vatican's secretariat took the unusual step on Saturday of condemning "completely false news stories".
Bertone steps in
Following Benedict's resignation, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone - who occupies a post known as the "Camerlengo Cardinal" (Chamberlain Cardinal) - will take over interim papal powers.
A series of meetings of cardinals starting Friday will determine the date of the start of the conclave to elect a new pope.
Benedict has said he will live "hidden from the world," but Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has said he would likely continue to publish his theological research.
ipj/slk (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)
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