(Vatican Radio) “Dear brothers and sisters…The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this, it is so I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength”. "We will always be close in prayer!".
This was Pope Benedict XVI’s parting message on Sunday, during his last Angelus address. At noon the canons sounded from the Janiculum hill and the great bells of St Peter’s basilica rang out. And as the curtains were drawn from his study windows and the red papal banner unfurled, the ocean of pilgrims waiting below erupted. Emer McCarthy reports:
They had come in their thousands, pouring into the square since early dawn, men, women and children, old and young, religious and lay Catholics. They held banners, emblazoned with messages of gratitude and farewell for the 85 year old Pope, who had guided them in the faith over the past eight years.
Pilgrims such as a father and his young son from the earthquake devastated city of Aquilla, central Italy, who held aloft a homemade sign, thanking Pope Benedict for having visited the city’s people in their time of need, for his material support and spiritual solidarity. Or the Dominican nuns from the Philippines who had held vigil since dawn praying the rosary. And beside them the young people in their sleeping bags, from Spain, Brazil, Mexico with their banner that read “the gates of hell will never prevail”.
With outstretched arms and visibly moved, Pope Benedict greeted them all, repeating ‘grazie, grazie,’ as he attempted to quieten the crowds. An almost impossible task.
Then, as is tradition, he reflected on the Sunday Gospel, Luke chapter 9, which recounts the Transfiguration of the Lord.