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Cardinals begin process of arranging conclave to elect new pope

The tweets from the @pontifex Twitter account have been removed, with the account dormant awaiting a new pontiff.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, centre, sits amongst other cardinals as they attend Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, centre, sits amongst other cardinals as they attend Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience.
Image: Luca Bruno/AP

CATHOLIC CARDINALS have begun making arrangements to hold a conclave to elect a new pope.

The preliminary meetings on when to hold the elaborate, behind-closed-doors session come a day after Benedict XVI formally stepped down after eight years at the helm of the Catholic Church.

Letters to the 115 Cardinals with a vote to choose the next pontiff – which will carry the first of a series of special ‘sede vacante’ postage stamps – will be sent later today, inviting them to meetings next week which will set the data for the conclave.

The meetings – known as “general congregations” – also serve as a way of vetting possible candidates to take over the church,

After an emotional final day as pope on Thursday, world newspapers paid tribute to the 85-year-old German pope’s historic decision, which could set a precedent for ageing popes in the future.

“Farewells made with courage, humility and grace,” ran a headline on an editorial in the German conservative daily Die Welt, while top-selling tabloid Bild said: “Our pope has retired.”

“This is how great popes go,” said Italian daily Il Messaggero, hailing the “greatness of his humility, the simple step of a pilgrim”.

La Repubblica daily said the 85-year-old Benedict’s troubled eight-year reign had ended abruptly “not with an apocalypse, but with the sigh or relief of a man who became man again.”

Benedict’s final hours as pope were filled with ritual and emotion, from the bells of St Peter’s Basilica to the Swiss Guards who shut the giant doors of his new temporary residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome to mark the moment that Benedict was no longer pope.

The Vatican flag flying over the palace was lowered as the Swiss Guards – the papacy’s military corps since the 15th century – formally completed their mission to protect the pope.

Tributes from leaders

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who leads the world’s largest Catholic country, led tributes from world leaders.

“I express my respect for His Holiness’s decision,” Rousseff said, thanking Benedict for his “gestures of appreciation” toward Brazil including creating the first Brazilian saint.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel – herself a devout Protestant – attended a Mass in Berlin to mark the pope’s last day in office, while hundreds of worshippers paid homage at a special Mass in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

The former pope Benedict will now be known as “Roman pontiff emeritus” — a completely new title created especially for this new situation. He will still be addressed as “Your Holiness”.

In a last tweet sent from his @pontifex Twitter account as he left the Vatican, the Pope said:

Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.

While the account remains in existence, Benedict’s tweets have been removed; the account now carries the name ‘Sede vacante’ – referring to the legal name for the period where the papacy is vacant – and will be ready for the use of the new pontiff if he decides to use it.

Benedict’s own tweets will be held on a public archive on the Vatican’s news website.

Benedict is only the second pope to resign voluntarily in the Church’s 2,000-year history, and in his final hours as pontiff he took the highly unusual step of pledging allegiance to his successor.

“Among you there is also the future pope to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence,” the pope said in final remarks to 144 cardinals in the ornate Clementine Hall in the Vatican.

“Let the Lord reveal the one he has chosen,” said the pope, as the cardinals doffed their red berettas and lined up to kiss the papal ring.

Additional reporting by AFP.

Explainer: How is a new Pope chosen?

Glossary: Some of the terms you’ll hear during the Papal election

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Gavan Reilly

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