Pope Benedict XVI’s final audience

EuropePope Benedict XVI’s final audience

AFP report of Pope Benedict XVI’s final audience

Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Catholic masses for the last time before retiring, making several rounds of St Peter’s Square and stopping to kiss half a dozen children brought up to him by his secretary.

Tens of thousands of people crowded into the square to bid farewell to the pope at his final general audience – the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.

Pope Benedict XVI greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican

Pilgrims and curiosity-seekers picked spots along the main boulevard nearby to watch the event on giant TV screens. Fifty thousand tickets were requested for Benedict’s final masterclass, and Italian media estimated the number of people attending could be double that.

With chants of “Benedetto!” erupting every so often, the mood – even hours before Benedict was to arrive – was far more buoyant than during the pope’s final Sunday blessing, and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

The pope says he will accompany the Church in prayer after his resignation.
1031 GMT: The speech is being broadcast on giant screens for those who haven’t managed to get close enough for a glimpse of the pontiff.
Some 50,000 people already had tickets ahead of the event, while another 150,000 were expected to try to attend, Vatican City authorities said.
1025 GMT: “GRAVITY AND NOVELTY”: Pope says he is aware of the “gravity and novelty” of his resignation — the first of its kind since the Middle Ages.
Bursts of applause as he explains his motivation for stepping down.
“I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit,” he says.
1021 GMT: In a Biblical analogy, Pope Benedict tells the crowds: “The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds.”
1017 GMT: Pilgrims snap away with their cameras to immortalise this unique moment. The backdrop, the majestic basilica and the huge Tuscan collonades designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
1012 GMT: “STORMY WATERS”: Addressing his audience the pope says the Church is going through “stormy waters” but God will not let it sink.
His speech is accompanied by rhythmic applause from the tens of thousands assembled before him.

007 GMT: The pope has got out of his vehicle and taken his place on the altar, having greeted the cardinals in attendance, Gildas Le Roux tells us. Rapturous applause greets him.
He thanks the huge crowds of faithful for being there. More wild applause.
1001 GMT: “Bishops and cardinals applaud as the pope drives up to the altar in front of the basilica,” reports Eleanor Ide. “Crowds explode into cheers as he raises his arms in greeting.”
0955 GMT: The pope’s car stops for a few minutes and he kisses a baby, presented to him by his secretary, says Gildas Le Roux.
0950 GMT: The crowd of more than 100,000 pilgrims cheer and wave flags as the pope passes among them, AFP reporters tell us from the famous Vatican plaza.
Benedict begins a tour of the square to greet and bless the faithful from his familiar glass-sided vehicle, to a soundtrack of organ music.
Benedict arrives in his trademark white popemobile, waving to crowds which go wild, cheering “long live the pope!”, reports AFP’s Eleanor Ide.
0937 GMT: Benedict XVI has held some 348 audiences during his pontificate, attended by more than 5 million people, according to the Vatican.
The 85-year-old says he is stepping down becuase he is too tired and weak to continue with the role, with all that it involves in the modern world.

0932 GMT: Several flags are flying over the crowds of faithful assembled in St Peter’s Square, AFP’s Gildas Le Roux reports. The white Vatican flag, alongside Italian and German ones.
There are a record number of journalists from around the world at this weekly audience, quizzing the faithful on their reasons for being here and their impressions of the event. Photographers and camermen battle their way through the crowds. A helicopter hovers overhead.
0923 GMT: To say this is an historic event is no exaggeration. Benedict will be the first pope to step down since Pope Gregory XII abdicated in 1415.
A pilgrim named Alban, who studies at a French seminary in Rome, tells AFP: “It really is a joy for us to be here today for this historic moment. I am not sad, because Benedict XVI is going but Joseph Ratzinger remains with us.”
0917 GMT: A testament to the importance of the pope to residents of the Vatican City, one banner reads: “The pope is the heart of this town.”
0910 GMT: Huge cheers break out in St Peter’s Square as the Vatican welcomes pilgrims over loudspeakers in several languages, AFP’s Eleanor Ide tells us.
One group, holding a banner with the words “Benedict pope again!”, starts chanting his name.
0906 GMT: Like many pilgrims, Anna Santamaria, a retiree from Orte, near Rome, has travelled by train to the Vatican especially for the final audience. She has mixed feelings about the pope stepping down: “I want to see him one last time. I am at the same time sad and happy. I understand his decision to leave: at his age it’s too difficult.”
0900 GMT: Not everyone here supports Benedict’s resignation. Leonardo Rossi, one of the young stewards from Opus Dei, tells AFP: “I do not share the pope’s decision to step down. It is not a fitting time, with all the problems the church is going through.”
0854 GMT: Young people from the religious group Opus Dei are serving as stewards at the entrance to the square, managing the queues of people filing in past metal detectors, our correspondent Gildas Le Roux reports.


Soeur Yolanda, of Mexico says: “I’m say but at the same time happy for the pope, who is very tired.”
0848 GMT: AFP’s Eleanor Ide is at the Vatican where she says some among the crowd of faithful are holding up a banner bearing the words “Benedict we’ll miss you!”
“Tens of thousands are gathered in the sunshine in St Peter’s Square to wait for the pope, with organ music from the cathedral filling the air,” she reports.
0843 GMT: The pope’s general audiences are usually held inside the Vatican but today’s landmark event is being staged in St Peter’s Square due to the sheer volume of people wanting to attend.
The Vicar General of Rome, cardinal Agostino Vallini, says city residents will turn out because they feel a special bond with the pope.
“It it something the heart and our faith demands,” Vallini tells Vatican Radio.
“Rome likes the pope a lot and feels a special affection for him so it could not miss his last public act.”
WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on Pope Benedict XVI’s final audience of his pontificate. Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather at the Vatican to bid farewell to the pope on the eve of his historic resignation.
– Streams of pilgrims have already begun to fill St Peter’s Square for the general audience, set to start around 10:30 am (0930 GMT).
– The event, which usually lasts around an hour, involves a mixture of prayers and religious instruction from the pope and will begin with Benedict’s final tour of the plaza in his white “popemobile”.
– The Vatican says 50,000 people have tickets for the event but city authorities have prepared for 200,000, and have metal detectors, snipers and field clinics at the ready.

Asad Haroon
Asad Haroon
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