Some 200,000 people came to see Pope Benedict one last time before his resignation. How did pilgrims from Bavaria and Kenya see his final audience?
The popemobile first appeared at 10:36 a.m., a touch late, but with a smiling and waiving Benedict inside. The deafening roar of the crowd greeted him. Until that moment, most had seen the Pope only through images on television screens. Visitors stood atop stools, or pushed through the barriers that held them back from the slow-moving popemobile. "This isn't a farewell event, it's a triumphal procession," said a Swiss student named Mark. With his arms stretched high, he tried his best to get a photo of the pontiff.
In his speech, Benedict said goodbye to the faithful and said, simply, "Thank you!" in six different languages. "I will continue to pay my services to the church through prayer and reflection," he said. "The pope alone is not responsible for the church." His speech was interrupted on numerous occasions through applause and standing ovations.
In spite of the jubilation, however, tears still flowed. The Pope listened to the "Bavarian Hymn" played by the Traunstein marching band from his home state in Germany.
"They practiced for a long time, and now people from all over the world are watching," said one visitor, Manfred Kneidl, from Germany, "And the Pope likes brass bands."
Benedict XVI gave thanks in German for the salutation from back home. He thanked those in attendance for the respect he was given after deciding to resign from the papacy. "A big 'God bless!'" the pope shouted out.
He appeared tired and little relieved that he would soon be able to retire to Castel Gandolfo. Traditionally the pope engages in short talks with individual pilgrims from the general audience after the Wednesday speeches, but this time the 86-year-old pope did not partake. After performing his final sign of the cross, Benedict stepped into the popemobile and, without doing a loop around St. Peter's Square, he disappeared.
"We have so many good people"
Sister Elizabeth from Kenya is in rapture that she could see her Pope one more time. The Franciscan nun is snapping souvenir pictures with other nuns, as St. Peter's Square empties out. "He resigned for the good of the Church. That is the prophetic message he left us with today. The Church will be fine. He accepted his limits and himself. We should also do that: we should accept ourselves as we are," explains Sister Elizabeth, summarizing her message from the Pope's last words.
She would have no problem with the next Pope coming from AFrica, or even Kenya. "We have many good people," she laughs. "President Obama's ancestors come from Kenya, after all." Then, Sister Elizabeth becomes earnest and says: "The Pope is the Pope, no matter where he comes from. He is, after all, chosen by God."
For the Bavarian brass band is was a long, but successful day. It was a Traunstein businessman with good connections to the Curia, who organized their trip to play and sit in the first row very close to Benedict. On Friday, they head back to Bavaria with no more German Pope, but with all the memories.