IN HIS FIRST public appearance since his shock resignation, Pope Benedict XVI asked members of the Catholic Church to keep praying for him.
Ahead of his Ash Wednesday address in the Vatican, he told the several-thousand audience members that he will step down from his top position “for the good of the Church”.
He said the decision was taken “in full freedom” after having prayed at length and examined his conscience.
“I am well aware of the gravity of this act,” he added.
“I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.”
The 85-year-old, whose name will return to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on 28 February when his resignation comes into effect, said he could almost physically feel the prayers from supporters in recent days which he described as “not easy”.
“Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope.”
The pontifex then continued with his weekly catechesis to which about 3,500 people had bought tickets for. The mass had been moved to St Peter’s Basilica to accommodate an even larger crowd.
“It will be an important concelebration, and the last led by the Holy Father in Saint Peter’s,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. A new pope is expected to be elected before Easter which falls on 31 March. The Conclave of Cardinals will be held on or after 15 March.
Cardinal Ratzinger will then retire to a little-known monastery within the Vatican walls.
-Additional reporting by AFP