Cardinals say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI - New York News

Pope Benedict XVI's papacy ends

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Pope Benedict XVI inside Clementine Hall at the Vatican. (Feb. 28, 2013) Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Pope Benedict XVI inside Clementine Hall at the Vatican. (Feb. 28, 2013)

Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for the last time as pope on Thursday after announcing his resignation earlier this month citing the lack of mental and physical strength to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Benedict arrived at Castel Gandolfo after an emotional sendoff from the Vatican, where his closest aide wept by his side as he bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, Swiss Guards standing by at attention.

The 85-year-old was flown by helicopter to the papal retreat Castel Gandolfo, just southeast of Rome, where he will stay for several months while an apartment is prepared for him back in the Vatican.

Benedict greeted the faithful, telling well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as a "simple pilgrim." 

As he was driven to the helicopter, a Tweet from the Pontiff's account @Pontifex 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."

Earlier in the day, the pontiff had promised "'unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final greetings to cardinals before retiring.

Benedict urged his cardinals to work in unity so that the College of Cardinals is "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached -- a clear message to the conclave that will pick the next pope.

He said he would pray for the cardinals in coming days and weeks as they choose his successor.

At 8 p.m. local time sharp, Benedict becomed the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo were shut and the Swiss Guards went off duty.

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