Lagos — LOOKING tired but serene, Pope Benedict XVI, yesterday, told thousands who gathered for his weekly audience that he was resigning for "the good of the church" -- an extraordinary scene that unfolded in his first appearance since dropping the bombshell announcement.
The 85-year-old Pope basked in more than a minute-long standing ovation when he entered the packed hall for his traditional Wednesday catechism lesson. He was interrupted repeatedly by applause, and many in the audience of thousands had tears in their eyes.
A huge banner reading "Grazie Santita" (Thank you Your Holiness) was strung up at the back of the room.
According to the AFP, Benedict appeared wan and spoke very softly, but his eyes twinkled with joy at the flock's warm and heartfelt welcome. He repeated in Italian what he had told his cardinals, Monday, in Latin: that he simply didn't have the strength to continue.
"As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005," he said, to applause. "I did this in full liberty for the good of the church."
Seeks prayers for future Pope
He thanked the faithful for their prayers and love, which he said he had "physically felt in these days that haven't been easy for me." And he asked them "to continue to pray for me, the church, and the future pope."
The atmosphere was festive and warm, if somewhat bittersweet, as if the faithful were trying to persuade him to stay with them for just a bit longer.
A chorus of Italian school children serenaded him with one of his favorite hymns in German -- a gesture that won over the pope, who thanked them for singing a piece "particularly dear to me."
"The atmosphere was funeral but nobody had died," he said. "But then I realized it was a wise act for the entire church. He taught the church and the world that the papacy is not about power but about service."
It was a sentiment the retiring Benedict himself emphasized, yesterday, when he told his flock that the "path of power is not the road of God."
To spend retirement in Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, Vatican City
The Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, the Vatican monastery where Pope Benedict XVI intends to live began its life as the Vatican gardener's house, but was established as a cloistered convent by Blessed John Paul II in 1994.
Following the Pope's announcement to step down on February 28, the Vatican said he would move out to the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo while remodeling work was completed on the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens.
The monastery - a building of about 4,300 square feet - has 12 monastic cells and a chapel. The complex, mostly hidden from view by a high fence and hedges, includes a vegetable garden. It occupies about 8,600 square feet on a hill to the west of the apse of St. Peter's Basilica.
The rules of the Mater Ecclesiae convent specified that the aim of the community living there is "the ministry of prayer, adoration, praise and reparation" in silence and solitude "to support the Holy Father in his daily care for the whole church."
No role in election of successor
Benedict's final public appearances (his last general audience will be February 27) are expected to draw great crowds, as they may well represent some of the last public speeches for a man who has spent his life as a priest, a cardinal and a pope, teaching and preaching.
And they will also represent a way for the faithful to say farewell under happier circumstances than when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005.
The audience was the start of a busy day for Benedict, who also presided over Ash Wednesday services later in the day to mark the official start of the Catholic Church's solemn Lenten season. The service is usually held in a church on Rome's Aventine hill, but was moved at the last minute to St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican said the shift was made to accommodate the crowds, though it also spared the pope the usual procession to the church.
The Vatican insisted no serious medical ailment was behind Benedict's decision to retire, though it admitted for the first time on Tuesday that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and recently had its battery replaced.
How the next Pope will emerge
At a briefing for news reporters, yesterday, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, provided some details on the emerging plans for the resignation and future life of Pope Benedict XVI, and for the conclave that will choose his successor.
•Pope Benedict will hold a final meeting with members of the College of Cardinals in the morning on February 28. His resignation will take effect that evening.
•Upon the Pope's official abdication, Vatican officials will begin the sequence of events that ordinarily follows a Pope's death. The camerlengo will destroy the papal ring and the world's cardinals will be summoned to the conclave.
•The conclave will begin sometime between 15 and 20 days after the Pope's resignation. The exact date is among several procedural matters that will be settled by the cardinals when they first meet after the Pope's abdication.
•Pope Benedict himself will play no role in the conclave. He will leave the Vatican immediately, to stay at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, until renovations are completed at the monastery on Vatican grounds where he intends to take up a more permanent residence. "The Pope will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of the election," Father Lombardi said. He will also surely remain at Castel Gandolfo until after the conclusion of the conclave.
•The leaders of the Roman Curia will be expected to submit their resignations. Since they act as advisers to the Pontiff, they may be re-appointed or not, at the discretion of the new Pope.
•Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca has been named the general auditor of the Apostolic Camera, the official who will have temporary authority over the temporal affairs of the Holy See during the interregnum before the election of the new Pontiff.