RELIGION

Pope Benedict XVI Last Day (VIDEO) (LIVE UPDATES) (PHOTOS)

At 5 p.m. CET (11 a.m. EST), Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican on a helicopter to the papal seaside retreat, Castel Gandolfo. Once he arrived at the castle, he greeted the crowd at 5:30 p.m. CET. AP has this transcript of the Pope's final words:

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o'clock this evening and then no more.

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still ... thank you ... I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.

Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!"

Nicole Winfield reports from the AP:

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has greeted the faithful for the last time as pope, telling well-wishers gathered at the Vatican's vacation retreat that he is beginning the final stage of his life as a "simple pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

Benedict arrived at Castel Gandolfo after an emotional sendoff from the Vatican, where his closest aide wept by his side as he bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, Swiss Guards standing by at attention.

Bells tolled as he left the Vatican by helicopter and did a fly-by around St. Peter's Square. They tolled anew as he arrived in Castel Gandolfo, where the central piazza was jammed with people eager to capture the historic moment.

Pope Benedict began his last day in the papal office by greeting the College of Cardinals at around 11 am CET. In this meeting, his last with the cardinals, he declared his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next pope.

As of 8 p.m. CET, the Catholic world has entered into a period of Sede Vacante, literally Vacant See; and Pope Benedict XVI is Pope Emeritus.

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