Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public prayer ceremony on Sunday through the Window of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The pope told the crowds at St Peter’s square that his decision to retire did not mean he was abandoning the Catholic Church.
“The Lord God has called me to go to the top of the hill in order to dedicate myself again to prayer and to meditation,” Benedict told the tens of thousands of faithful gathered for the blessing. “But this does not mean I shall abandon the church.”
“Thank you for your affection,” the pope told the crowd as he appeared at the window of his apartment overlooking the square.
Benedict early this month announced that he is stepping down because his failing health would soon limit his effectiveness in his job. Vatican officials have said the decision has been in the works for nearly a year.
Sunday was not the 85-year-old’s last public appearance. He is expected to perform his traditional Wednesday blessing at St. Peter’s, and he may also be visible on Thursday as he officially ends his papacy, leaving the Vatican for several weeks of repose in the mountain village of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.