Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican for  the final time as leader of the Catholic Church as he has now officially  retired.

He made the short journey to the papal  retreat at Castel Gandalfo, where he appeared on the summer palace’s balcony to  greet cheering and flag-waving crowds, before he officially ceased to be Pope at  7pm GMT.

At 7pm he became the first pontiff in 600  years to resign. The  doors of the palazzo in Castel Gandolfo closed and the Swiss  Guards in  attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the world’s  1.2billion Catholics over – for now.

He chose to leave the Vatican by a  white  helicopter for the 15 minute flight to Castel Gandalfo instead of the half-hour  car journey through the  streets of Rome.

Benedict  boarded the Italian Air Force  helicopter accompanied by members of the  papal household, with three hours left  of his reign.

The pontiff was driven away in a black  Mercedes under police escort to a helipad in the Vatican Gardens.

As the helicopter took flight, Swiss Guards  appeared at the gates of the  Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandalfo, where he made  a final  appearance around 5pm GMT.

Benedict told them that he was ‘simply a  pilgrim about to start his last journey on Earth’ and gave ‘a  heartfelt thank  you’ before disappearing inside the Apostolic Palace in  the town.

‘Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you,  surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes, which do me such  good.

‘Thank you for your friendship, and  your  affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am  no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I  will be until 8  o’clock this evening and then no more.

‘I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg  of his pilgrimage on this Earth.

‘But I would still … thank you … I would  still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my  reflection, and  with all my inner strength, like to work for the common  good and the good of  the church and of humanity. I feel very supported  by your sympathy.

‘Let us go forward with the Lord for  the  good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly  impart my  blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy  Spirit. Good night!  Thank you all!’

The pope, walking with the aid of a  cane,  left his private apartments at the Vatican shortly before 4pm GMT, which will be  sealed when his resignation takes effect tonight, and was greeted by the vicar  of Rome and the vicar of the Vatican City.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here