Pope vows he will not abandon church after resignation
Pope Benedict xvi has told a crowd of 100,000 people in St Peter's Square that he will continue to serve the Catholic Church even after he formally resigns the Papacy on Thursday.
In his last Sunday blessing, the 85-year-old Pope said he was not "abandoning the church" by his decision to retire.
To applause and cheers from the crowd, he said he had been called by God to devote the rest of his life to prayer and reflection.
"But this doesn't mean abandoning the church," he told the crowd.
Three nuns in beige wimples clutched a large banner that read "Viva il Papa", and a group from France had a placard that said "Au revoir et merci".
Dressed in white vestments and extending his arms to the faithful, the Pope said he would "continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love, which I have tried to do until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength".
Despite the applause, the mood among many in the crowd was subdued and respectful.
"I think his decision to go is a good thing," said Jonas Schmidt (21), a German student living in Switzerland. "It would be better if the next Pope is younger so that he can deal with all the trouble and scandals the church is going through."
Charlotte Coe (20), a visiting student from Texas, said: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wanted to be here."
The Angelus blessing was Benedict's penultimate public appearance as Pope.
On Wednesday, he will take part in a general audience in St Peter's Square, an event which is expected to draw even bigger crowds.
He will abdicate formally on Thursday evening, when he will be flown by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, a papal summer residence to the east of Rome.
After spending about two months there, he will move back to the Vatican, living in a former convent.
There has been intense speculation about the reasons for his resignation, the first time in 600 years that a Pope has stepped down.
Benedict has said he no longer has the strength to carry on, but Italian media reported last week that a secret investigation into the Vatileaks stolen documents scandal had found evidence of bitter feuds between cardinals and blackmail of sexually active gay priests in Rome.
The conclave to elect a new Pope is likely to start in mid-March. Among the names mentioned as candidates for the papacy are Cardinal Peter Turkson (64) from Ghana, who, if elected, would become the first black African Pope; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (69), an Argentine who has spent all his adult life in the Vatican. (© Daily Telegraph, London)