The Guardian (United Kingdom)
Lizzy Davies in Vatican City
The Guardian, Wednesday 27 February 2013
As his papacy entered its final hours, Pope Benedict XIV admitted on Wednesday that his eight-year spell as head of the Roman Catholic church had had its "difficult moments" when he felt that God "seemed to be sleeping".
Before tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's square who had come to hear his final general audience, the outgoing pope looked tired but serene as he thanked believers for understanding his decision to resign "for the good of the church".
Smiling and waving from an open-sided car, he toured the square, stopping occasionally to bless babies.
In a very personal homily, which differed in tone from his usual Wednesday messages, Benedict recalled that, when he agreed to become pope on 19 April 2005, he felt the calling placed "a great burden" on his shoulders. The eight years that followed, he said, had had moments "of joy and light" but also of difficulty. His papacy was marred by the unfolding clerical abuse scandal in Europe and the United States, and by the so-called Vatileaks affair.
"I have felt like St Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us … and the Lord seemed to be sleeping," he said. ...
Benedict will cease to be pope at 8pm Italian time on Thursday. After a final meeting with cardinals in the morning, he will leave the Vatican City at 5pm by helicopter, making a brief flight to the hilltop town of Castel Gandolfo. There, amid pilgrims, he is expected to make one last public appearance as pope before becoming, instead, "emeritus pope", as he will be styled.
Cardinals, many of whom were massed on the steps of St Peter's basilica alongside Benedict on Wednesday, will then begin consultations ahead of a conclave to choose a successor. The secretive process, which could start as early as next week, is already mired in controversy after the resignation of the Scottish cardinal, Keith O'Brien, who will no longer be attending. Another cardinal, the emeritus archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, has withstood pressure from grassroots Catholic activists to stay away after court papers indicated he had helped shield priests accused of sex abuse.