|Final engagements for outgoing pontiff
Pope Benedict XVI vowed “unconditional obedience’’ to his successor on his historic final day as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, when he will become the first pontiff to resign since the Middle Ages.
“Among you there is also the future pope to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence,'' the pope said as he bade farewell to cardinals in the Vatican's ornate Clementine Hall, AFP reports.
“Let the Lord reveal the one he has chosen,'' said the 85-year-old pope, wearing an ermine-lined red stole over his white cassock.
“We have experienced, with faith, beautiful moments of radiant light together, as well as times with a few clouds in the sky,'' Benedict said, reprising a theme from his adieu to some 150,000 pilgrims in St Peter's Square yesterday.
The cardinals with their black cassocks and red sashes then took turns bidding farewell to the pontiff, kissing his gold papal signet ring according to tradition. Many doffed their berettas in a sign of deference.
Once Benedict takes up permanent residence in a former convent on a hill within the Vatican walls, the Church will find itself in the unprecedented situation of having a pope and his predecessor living within a stone's throw of each other.
From Catholic reformers calling for women clergy and for an end to priestly celibacy, to growing secularism in the West and ongoing scandals uncovering sexual abuse by pedophile priests going back decades, the next pope will have a tough agenda.
French cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, one of the electors, spoke of the upcoming conclave in an interview with Italian daily Il Messaggero saying: “Our eyes will be turned on the conditions of the world, to the great challenges the Church faces.''
According to Church rules, any Catholic adult male can be elected pope – but the last non-cardinal to land the top job was Urban VI in the late 14th century.
Benedict will have a small parting ceremony with some of his staff in a Vatican courtyard and later will board a white helicopter emblazoned with the papal insignia from the Vatican grounds.
After eight difficult years, some of the pope's parting words in recent years have been harsh.
At his last public mass in St Peter's Basilica, he condemned “hypocrisy’’ and “rivalry’’ in the Church.
“The face of the Church... is at times disfigured,'' he told a tearful congregation. “I am thinking in particular of sins against the unity of the Church.’’