(Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
Just ahead of his official retirement, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final address to over 150,000 faithful at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, where he recalled the joys and difficulties of his papacy.
"I took this step (resignation) in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit," the pope said before the hundreds of thousands that gathered to see the Roman Catholic Church leader one last time.
In his speech, the 85-year-old pontiff, whose papacy began in April 2005, recalled the "joy and light" of his service as well as moments of difficulty when "it seemed like the Lord was sleeping."
"To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself," Benedict reminded the crowd. He shocked the world earlier in February when he announced he would be retiring due to his frail age, the first pope in close to 600 years to make such a decision.
Benedict was reflective in his farewell address, which he made in several languages, including English.
"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; [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," the pope shared.
The Roman Catholic Church leader admitted that he asked God and searched within himself in 2005 when he was elected as pope to see if he was up to the task, and felt that he was ready to take on the weight of the Vatican. In recent months, however, he felt his strength decreasing, and after a lot of prayer he felt that he was making the right decision in stepping down.
Now taking on a new title, Pope Emeritus, Benedict said that there is no returning to private life even though he will no longer be serving within the government of the church.
"My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the crucified Lord," he said.
Benedict concluded by thanking believers around the world for all their prayers and support. "I thank each and every one of you for the respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision. I continue to accompany the church on her way through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and to His Bride, which I have hitherto tried to live daily and that I would live forever."
In the farewell ceremony, Fox News shared that the pope took a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car, blessing children along the way, before departing.
"I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church," said one supporter, 52-year-old homemaker Maria Cristina Chiarini, who traveled from Lugo along with 60 members of her parish. "There's nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won't leave us without a guide."
The world's top cardinals are expected to travel to the Vatican in March to vote for a new pope, who will be the 266th in succession.