VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI bestowed his final Sunday blessing of his pontificate on a cheering crowd in St. Peter’s Square, explaining that his waning years and energy have made him better suited to the life of private prayer he soon will spend in a secluded monastery than as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
On Thursday evening, the 85-year-old German-born theologian will become the first pope to have resigned from the papacy in 600 years.
Sunday’s noon appearance from his studio window overlooking the vast square was his next-to-last appointment with the public of his nearly eight-year papacy.
Tens of thousands of faithful and other admirers have already asked the Vatican for seats in the square for his last general audience Wednesday.
Benedict told an estimated 100,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans in the square on Sunday that God had called him to dedicate himself even more to prayer and meditation, which he will do in a monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City’s ancient walls.
But this doesn’t mean abandoning the church, he said.
On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.