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Religion

The pope's last blessing

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.

Pope Benedict XVI waves from his Popemobile as he rides through a packed Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican during his last general audience, February 27, 2013. The weekly event which would normally be held in a vast auditorium in winter, but has been moved outdoors to St. Peter's Square so more people can attend. The pope has two days left before he takes the historic step of becoming the first pontiff in some six centuries to step down instead of ruling for life. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

Pope Benedict arrived on St. Peter's Square for his last general audience and public blessing.

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.

 Papst Audienz Bayrische Blaskapelle aus Traunstein spielt auf dem Peterplatz für den scheidenen Papst Benedikt XVI der aus Bayern stammt. Im Hintergrund der Petersdom. Aufgenommen am 27.02.2013 Peterplatz, Vatikan, Rom, Italien. Foto: Bernd Riegert DW

In a special farewell, a Bavarian brass band played the "Bavarian hymn".

"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."

Papst audienz 6 Schwester Elisabeth, Franziskaner-Nonne aus Kenia, lebt im Kloster in Pescara, Italien. Orden unserer lieben Frau der Armen. Nimmt teil an letzter Generalaudienz von papst Benedikt XVI in Rom. Aufgenommen 27.02.2013, Peterplatz, Vatikan, Rom, Italien. Foto: Bernd Riegert DW

Sister Elizabeth from Kenya was very moved by the momentous impact of the occasion.

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.