From pontiff to pilgrim, with the simple tick of a clock.
At 8 p.m. Rome time, Pope Benedict XVI finished his final day as pope, shed his leadership of the Catholic Church, and began a new life of quiet prayer and contemplation.
“Thank you for your friendship, and your affection,” he told the thousands gathered in the square of Castel Gandalfo, where he will spend the first months of his retirement. “You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones.”
For the rest of his life, Benedict said, “I will simply be a pilgrim, who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
But first: a gathering to speak to the “princes” of the church, the Cardinals who will decide who will next lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics; a goodbye to his staff, some weeping as Benedict left the Vatican; a helicopter ride to his new home; and then his final address to the faithful, gathered beneath his balcony, one last time.
Though the retirement of a pope is extraordinarily unusual — it has not happened for six centuries, since Pope Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 — there are ancient rituals that must be observed, such as the conclave of cardinals to choose a new pontiff. But there are also new issues — such as what happens to Benedict’s Twitter account – to consider:
- The papal ring – known as the Ring of the Fisherman, which bears an image of St. Peter – is destroyed, as is Benedict’s personal seal. Fr. Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, has been widely quoted as saying that “objects strictly tied to the ministry of St Peter must be destroyed.” The door to the papal apartment is also sealed until the new resident is named.
- Benedict will continue to be called “His Holiness,” and he will be known as the pope emeritus. How a retired pope and a reigning pope will co-exist is a new issue for the church to grapple with, but Benedict urged unity in his address to the College of Cardinals — and pledged his own loyalty to the new pontiff.
“May the College of Cardinals work like an orchestra, where diversity — an expression of the universal church — always works towards a higher and harmonious agreement,” Benedict said. “Among you is the future pope, whom I today promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”
<bullet>When the clock struck 8 p.m., the Swiss Guards, the soldiers who guard the pope, closed the gates to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo — where he will stay until his Vatican apartments have been renovated — marking the end of Benedict’s tenure. They can stand down until they have a new pope to look after. The Vatican police will ensure the security of Benedict in retirement.
- The 115 cardinals will gather to choose the next pope, and it’s expected they will decide Monday when that process — called conclave — will begin. Under normal rules, conclaves usually start 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope, a necessary pause to allow cardinals around the world to get to the Vatican for the vote. Benedict changed those rules to allow the meeting to be moved forward.
- Speculation about who will become the 266th pope is well underway. Where the next pope will hail from is seen as a pivotal decision as the church deals with a flock flourishing in places like Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Benedict, though British bookmakers have Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as the favourite among those placing bets.
- The play-by-play of the pope’s retirement was carried by news media around the world. In Argentina, from where another possible contender — Cardinal Leonardo Sandri — hails, Benedict’s departure stirred musings about a South American pope.
“It would be good if he’s an Argentine, but . . . what would please me is that the coming pope does some good in this world,” Raquel Gonzalez told the Associated Press as she left mass in Buenos Aries. “That he achieves peace, and persuades those living with so much wealth to share more of it with the poor.”
- The Vatican homepage has been updated to reflect the pope’s retirement. Instead of an image of Benedict are the words “apostolica sedes vacans” — roughly, the Holy See is vacant — and his online biography has been adjusted to note his date of departure: 28.II.2013
<bullet> The pope’s Twitter account, @pontifex, is silent. His last tweet to 1.6 million followers 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.” As on the Vatican homepage, the image of Benedict has been deleted — along with his previous tweets — and the account is described as “sede vacante.”
- Though he’ll continue to wear white papal robes, Benedict will swap his distinct red shoes for soft brown ones. They were crafted in the Mexican city of Leon, and given to him during a visit to the city last year, according to the Associated Press. Media in the country reported that “Benedict XVI loves his shoes from Mexican craftsmen.”
With files from Star wire services