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Sunday 28 May 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Dmitry Lovetsky/AP Pope Benedict XVI waves from his pope-mobile as he is driven through the crowd during his last general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Benedict XVI holds final address before stepping down as pope
The 85-year-old enjoys an emotional sendoff, explaining his reasons for retiring and taking a final tour of St Peter’s Square.

POPE BENEDICT XVI has held his final public event before stepping down as pontiff, using his final general audience to further explain his reasons for deciding to step down.

Thousands turned out at St Peter’s Square in Rome to mark the 85-year-old pope’s final public event, before he retires to his summer residence outside Rome tomorrow and ends his pontificate at 7pm tomorrow evening.

The Wednesday morning general audience usually offers a platform for the pope to give lectures on the nature of Christianity – but today Benedict instead used the opportunity to elaborate on his reasons for his retirement.

Benedict said he did not have the “strength of mind or body” to continue leading the Catholic Church’s 1.2 billion followers.

“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,” he said, further recalling the doubts he had about his ability to rise to the role when he was appointed pontiff in April 2005.

“I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy … moments of turbulent seas and rough winds,” he added.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Benedict toured the square in the ‘Popemobile’, greeting well-wishers in what amounted to his final public appearance as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Most of the 115 cardinals who will vote in next month’s conclave, appointing a successor to Benedict, were present for the audience – which had an expected attendance of about 50,000, but an actual turnout of nearly double that much.

Tomorrow morning Benedict will hold a meeting with the cardinals, before flying to Castel Gandolfo – about 40 minutes away by road – to see out the last hours of his pontificate.

At 8pm Roman time (7pm Irish time) the doors of the residence will close, and the Swiss Guards protecting him will stand down – their job of protecting the head of the Catholic Church over for the time being.

In full: Pope Benedict XVI’s final address

Readers unable to view the Soundcloud file above can click here to listen to the audio.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm and affectionate greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors who have joined me for this, my last General Audience.

Like Saint Paul, whose words we heard earlier, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his Church and her growth in faith and love, and I embrace all of you with joy and gratitude.

During this Year of Faith, we have been called to renew our joyful trust in the Lord’s presence in our lives and in the life of the Church. I am personally grateful for his unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter.

I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world.

The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s Church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new Pope.

In union with Mary and all the saints, let us entrust ourselves in faith and hope to God, who continues to watch over our lives and to guide the journey of the Church and our world along the paths of history.

I commend all of you, with great affection, to his loving care, asking him to strengthen you in the hope which opens our hearts to the fullness of life that he alone can give.

To you and your families, I impart my blessing.

Read: Benedict changes rules to allow Conclave to start earlier

Explainer: How is a new Pope chosen?

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