Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Pope Celebrates Final Mass

Outgoing Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has assured millions of faithful around the world that he is not abandoning the church by retiring to spend his final years in prayer. Rather, the Holy Father sought to reassure them that his decision to quit was a calling from God.

The 85-year-old Benedict, who is stepping down on Thursday evening, as the first pope to do so in the past 600 years, told the crowd that God is calling him to dedicate himself "even more to prayer and meditation," which he will do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.

The Pope celebrated his last pontificate's final yesterday at St Peter's Square, where he addressed over 100,000 worshipers who were cheering him as he appeared from his studio window. The Pope dismissed allegations that he has something to hide by resigning from office.

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."

With the resignation of Pope Benedict coming into effect on February 28, there are only 20 days for the eligible cardinals with voting rights to elect a new pope.

The Papal Legate, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, from Canada is seen as a very strong front runner. Conservative, he is experienced in dealing with child abuse and the struggle with more liberal elements pushing for a freeing up of Catholic moral teaching.

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