Pope Benedict’s farewell Angelus
Every Sunday at noon, the bells of St Peter’s Basilica peal, urging Roman Catholics to recite the Angelus, but yesterday was a special occasion, being the last time Pope Benedict XVI would officiate.
Pope Benedict steps down on Thursday. Thousands of pilgrims, including many Maltese, assembled in the vast Vatican square to pray with Benedict as did millions around the world via television.
In Malta, Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna – who in his years posted at the Vatican worked closely with the German Pope when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger – watched the event on the television.
“I was very, very moved to see so many thousands of people gathered,” Mgr Scicluna said. It was very emotional to see the people’s eagerness to thank the Pope, he added.
Pilgrims waved flags of different countries and held up placards thanking the departing head of the Catholic Church. And when the Pope spoke, the crowd erupted into loud applause with chants of “Long live the Pope”.
One banner in the square read: “We love you”.
“It was moving in its simplicity,” noted Mgr Scicluna. He said it was touching that the Pope did not make “a grand speech”.
“He simply said that he will not leave the Church, that he is going to dedicate his life to prayer and that his is a call from the Lord.”
As he appeared at the window of his apartment overlooking the square, the Pope thanked the crowd for their “affection”.
“The Lord is calling me to go on top of the hill, to dedicate myself once more to prayer and meditation,” he said.
“But this does not mean to abandon the Church.
“Let’s always be close in prayer,” he told the crowd before going back inside his chamber.
The weekly Sunday Angelus ceremony at the Vatican will be put on hold until a new Pontiff is elected.
The cardinals are expected to go in conclave after March 15.
If the cardinals do not reach a two-thirds consensus on their choice for the next Catholic world’s leader, there is a possibility that there will not be a Pope to lead the Easter celebrations. “In which case, the celebrations will have to be led by the Archpriest of the Basilica,” said Mgr Scicluna.
As the Archpriest is also a cardinal, there would be two options: “If the voting cardinals are in conclave, they will have to suspend the conclave and continue after Easter or simply let another cardinal who is over 80 lead the celebrations.”
Mgr Scicluna doubted that they would opt for a “suspension of conclave” but said that this was all “very new”.
He explained that Pope Benedict would be living in an enclave, so that he would enjoy immunity and security.
“There are people who in the past have tried to present personal legal cases against Cardinal Ratzinger and I think that he still has to be granted the immunity and security that he had before, because he is now a frail person and he has done a good job and he merits all the protection that the Holy See can afford,” he said.
What happens next
• Pope Benedict’s final public appearance will be a general audience on Wednesday.
• He will hold a meeting with cardinals late Thursday morning before stepping down the same evening at eight.
• He will then begin his retirement in the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo before he withdraws to a monastery being built for him in the Vatican City where he will lead a cloistered life.