THE Pope has called on Roman Catholics around the world to turn back to God, warning against the perils of "pride and egoism", as the Vatican indicated it may move quicker to appoint his successor.
More than 50,000 cheering well-wishers crammed into St Peter's Square in Rome for Benedict XVI's Sunday blessing, the first since his shock resignation and penultimate before he steps down on February 28.
"The church, which is mother and teacher, calls on all its members to renew their spirit, turn firmly towards God and ignore pride and egoism to live in love," he told the crowd.
The Pope waved and thanked the larger than normal crowd "for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days". Speaking in Spanish, he then asked for prayers "for the next pope".
The 85-year-old Pontiff has cited failing health for his historic decision to resign and at the weekend it emerged he may be blind in his left eye.
Peter Seewald, a German journalist who interviewed the Pope in December, made the claim.
"His hearing had deteriorated. He couldn't see with his left eye," he said. "His body had become so thin that the tailors had difficulty in keeping up with newly fitted clothes."
Vatican insiders have also claimed that the Pope has been exhausted by bitter rivalries within the Holy See, which came to light when his butler, Paolo Gabriele, leaked correspondence detailing alleged power struggles.
Mr Gabriele has been pardoned by the Pope but sworn never to speak about his thefts.
On Saturday, the Vatican said that the conclave to elect the Pope's successor may be brought forward. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the usual delay of 15 to 20 days when a pope died gave time for a funeral to be arranged and for cardinals time to travel to Rome. On this occasion, less time could be needed. However, the Vatican's own rules, which require the time lapse "even if the pope resigns", may need to be amended.
Benedict is due to live in a former monastery within the walls of the Vatican when he retires, but, amid growing disquiet over the prospect of a former pope living yards from his successor, one official has predicted that he will eventually move elsewhere.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella said: "I think he will stay a while in the Vatican, but will then go to a more private place for a life of reflection and prayer."
There has also been confusion about what the future ex-Pope should wear. His tailor, Raniero Mancinelli, said he would likely opt for black trousers and jacket. "I imagine he will do everything to appear a normal priest and seek to become invisible," he said.
Yesterday, police cordoned off roads around St Peter's to cope with the crowds.
"I am here to support the courageous decision made by the Pope," said Roberto Morese (41), who was attending such a blessing for the first time.
"He wants to give a younger, fitter man the chance to tackle the church's shrinking congregations and the internal fighting at the Vatican." (© Daily Telegraph, London)