Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican forÂ the final time as leader of the Catholic Church as he has now officiallyÂ retired.
He made the short journey to the papalÂ retreat at Castel Gandalfo, where he appeared on the summer palace’s balcony toÂ greet cheering and flag-waving crowds, before he officially ceased to be Pope atÂ 7pm GMT.
At 7pm he became the first pontiff in 600Â years to resign. TheÂ doors of the palazzo in Castel Gandolfo closed and the SwissÂ Guards inÂ attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the world’sÂ 1.2billion Catholics over – for now.
He chose to leave the Vatican by aÂ whiteÂ helicopter for the 15 minute flight to Castel Gandalfo instead of the half-hourÂ car journey through theÂ streets of Rome.
The pontiff was driven away in a blackÂ Mercedes under police escort to a helipad in the Vatican Gardens.
As the helicopter took flight, Swiss GuardsÂ appeared at the gates of theÂ Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandalfo, where he madeÂ a finalÂ appearance around 5pm GMT.
Benedict told them that he was ‘simply aÂ pilgrim about to start his last journey on Earth’ and gave ‘aÂ heartfelt thankÂ you’ before disappearing inside the Apostolic Palace inÂ the town.
‘Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you,Â surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes, which do me suchÂ good.
‘Thank you for your friendship, andÂ yourÂ affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I amÂ no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or IÂ will be until 8Â o’clock this evening and then no more.
‘I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last legÂ of his pilgrimage on this Earth.
‘But I would still … thank you … I wouldÂ still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with myÂ reflection, andÂ with all my inner strength, like to work for the commonÂ good and the good ofÂ the church and of humanity. I feel very supportedÂ by your sympathy.
‘Let us go forward with the Lord forÂ theÂ good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedlyÂ impart myÂ blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and HolyÂ Spirit. Good night!Â Thank you all!’
The pope, walking with the aid of aÂ cane,Â left his private apartments at the Vatican shortly before 4pm GMT, which will beÂ sealed when his resignation takes effect tonight, and was greeted by the vicarÂ of Rome and the vicar of the Vatican City.