VATICAN CITY, (Zenit.org) – Prior to delivering his weekly General Audience address today, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on his retirement set for the end of the month. Thousands of pilgrims gathered at Paul VI Hall to express their support for the Supreme Pontiff.
“As you know, […] I have decided to give up the ministry that the Lord entrusted to me on April 19, 2005,” the Holy Father said.
“I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and having examined my conscience before God, well aware of the seriousness of the act, but equally conscious of no longer being able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength that it requires.”
Thanking the Church faithful for their support — which was displayed with prolonged applause and chants of ‘Viva il Papa’ (Long live the Pope) — the 85-year-old Pontiff conveyed his certainty that “the Church is Christ” and that He “will never allow it to lack His leadership and care.”
The Holy Father thanked the faithful for the prayers and love displayed, “with which you have accompanied me.”
“Thank you,” the Pope said. “I have felt almost physically in these days, which are not easy for me, the power of prayer that the love of the Church, your prayer, is bringing me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church, for the future Pope, who will lead us.”
‘The Church Belongs to Christ’
After the general audience, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, met with journalists to discuss the Holy Father’s words and his schedule in the coming weeks.
Fr. Lombardi dwelt on the Holy Father’s words at the start of the General Audience, since the Holy Father “addressed the people of God directly” regarding his resignation.
“The climate of the audience was profound and touching,” Father Lombardi noted.
The director of the press office also remarked on the importance of the Holy Father’s certainty that the Church belongs to Christ. “If anyone is having difficulty with the Pope’s decision, they may be consoled that the Church is sustained by the grace of God and of Christ,” Fr. Lombardi said.
“The Holy Father” he continued, “felt the support and comfort of the prayers of the faithful, of the people of God.”
Speaking personally on the Pope’s impending retirement, Fr. Lombardi expressed his admiration for the “free, humble, responsible, and lucid decision made by the Holy Father.”
“We have seen him become fragile with time,” the Jesuit acknowledged, “but it was up to him to decide on the seriousness of his health.”
Fr. Lombardi went on to discuss details on the Pope’s upcoming schedule, which includes several audiences with dignitaries and prelates. The Holy Father is expected to meet with the presidents of Romania, Guatemala and Italy as well as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti next week.
However, one week of his remaining 15 days in office will be spent in the annual Lenten retreat, preached each year for the Pontiff and the Roman Curia. The retreat begins Sunday, and will be preached this year by the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.