Leadership (Abuja)

25 February 2013

Nigeria: Pope Benedict XVI Holds Final Sunday Prayers

Thousands of Catholic Faithful gathered at the Vatican, yesterday, to hear Pope Benedict XVI deliver his last Sunday prayers, BBC reports monitored in Abuja said.

Speaking from his balcony overlooking St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict used different languages to salute Catholics who had come to bid him farewell at the end of his eight-year reign.

The Pope told the cheering pilgrims that his decision did not mean he was abandoning the Church and would continue to serve through prayer after his retirement later this week.

He said he was following God's wishes in deciding to abdicate.

"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain - prayer is not isolation from the world. I am not abandoning the Church and shall continue to serve it in a manner more adapted to my age and strength," through prayer and meditation, he added.

The Pope, leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, will hold his final general audience in St. Peter's on Wednesday.

On the whole, a total 117 Cardinals, under the age of 80 from around the world have been called to the Conclave in Rome to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor.

The Vatican has criticised the media for adding what it called defamatory "pressures" on cardinals ahead of the election.

The Vatican secretariat of state said Saturday that the "widespread distribution of often unverified or completely false news stories" was deplorable and was causing serious damage to people and institutions.

Italian newspapers recently put out unconfirmed reports about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the Pope that was linked to the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

Pope Benedict announced earlier this month that he was resigning for health reasons. He is the first Pope to step aside in 600 years.

Current rules call for the Cardinals who elect the Pope to meet on March 15, which is 15 days after Benedict formally steps down.

Benedict is 85 years old and was elected Pope in 2005 to replace the late John Paul 11.

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