By The Associated Press
2013-03-01 02:04 AM
The doors of the papal palace have closed. Benedict XVI is no longer pope.
Huge anticipation is building in Castel Gandolfo.
Both Swiss Guards are standing at attention at the 20-foot high doors to the papal palace.
Only 100 or so townspeople have come back out, some with children, others with their dogs. Most are quiet but light-hearted, waiting for history to be made as Benedict becomes the first pope in 600 years to retire.
`A LITTLE CONCERNED'
A long banner with a picture of a waving Pope Benedict XVI hangs from an iron fence outside St. Patrick's Catholic Church, one of the oldest in New Orleans, where traditions like Mardi Gras stem from Catholic roots.
But not everyone was supportive of his decision to step down.
"You can't help but feel emotional today, and maybe a little concerned," said Manolito Martinez, 42, who has attended St. Patrick's since childhood and now serves as the maintenance supervisor. "We're in peril times, with all these allegations, and my opinion is he should have endured this position until the end."
On a receiving table just inside the church, the faithful were invited to take prayer cards with a picture of the resigning pope. The prayer on the reverse side included a note of thanks and hope for the Church's next leader.
_ Stacey Plaisance
Retiring Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics _ but only for 26 more minutes.
COMMENTS FROM PROVIDENCE
In Rhode Island, one of the nation's most Catholic states, several hundred people packed the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence for a noontime mass said by Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence. The cathedral was filled to capacity with Catholic-school students in their uniforms, professionals in suits and people wearing jeans.
Tobin called the pope's resignation historic, humble and courageous, and says he resigned because of his love for the Roman Catholic Church. He called Benedict a pilgrim, a prophet and a bridge-builder and used a sports analogy to describe his time as pope.
"Pope Benedict left everything on the field," Tobin says.
And then this from Liz Ricci of East Providence, R.I., who says she left the Church for a number of years but had come back: "I just think the Lord's got the whole thing under control."
READING ABOUT A LIFE
Robei George, 7, sat on a pew at the Cathedral of Saint Mary just north of Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. He had a black shirt with the words "Pope Benedict XVI" written in white. In his hand, he carried a photo of the pontiff taped to a ruler.
Fifteen minutes before the pope's resignation officially goes into effect, George will walk with a half dozen students to the front of the church. They will hold up his picture and read about his life.
"I'm nervous," George admitted.
He and other children here are disappointed the pope is resigning.
"I was in love with the pope," said Maria Quant, 13. "He taught me how to be holier."
After the readings, the students will say a prayer to guide the selection of a new pope and blow out a candle.
SAINT ONE DAY?
In Chicago, some Catholics attending Mass at St. Alphonsus Church on the city's North Side _ a church founded as a German national parish more than a century ago and the only church in the city that still occasionally celebrates Mass in German _ say they are saddened by the pope's decision to step down. But many ultimately agree he is doing the proper, even courageous thing.
"He's a very frail man, his body is aging and I don't think (being pope) is something he could handle any more." says Nancy Oliver, a 73-year-old retired nurse. Like a lot of parishioners at a church that still has many German-Americans, she was excited when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became pope eight years ago.
Frank Scharl, 72, agrees. Scharl, whose parents came from Bavaria and were married in the Church in 1930, said that just as German-American parishioners were proud when Pope Benedict assumed the papacy, they are proud of his decision to step down for health reasons.
"Who knows," Scharl says, "he might be a saint someday."
AN ARGENTINE POPE?
In Argentina, Benedict XVI's final moments as pope were followed closely by the faithful in Buenos Aires' downtown cathedral.
Leaving Mass, Raquel Gonzalez and her friend Zuni Gimenez paused to dip their fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross on their chests, then on each other's backs for good measure.
"It would be good if he's an Argentine, but I what would please me is that the coming pope does some good in this world," Gonzalez said of her hopes for the next in line. "That he achieves peace, and persuades those living with so much wealth to share more of it with the poor."
APPLAUSE IN BALTIMORE
Several dozen archdiocese employees in Baltimore were watching the television as Pope Benedict XVI headed into retirement. They applauded when he stepped outside at the Vatican, then watched in silence as his helicopter took off for Castel Gandolfo.
"It was wonderful he came to terms with the fact that this is a huge international corporation and he doesn't have the energy to run this corporation anymore," said Derek Coelho, the director of gift planning for Catholic Charities.
That took "a lot of humility," he added.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Catholic leaders in the pope's native Germany are offering thanks for his papacy at a Berlin service.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch says Benedict was "solid as a rock in a fast-changing world."
WHAT THE POPE SAID
The text of Pope Benedict XVI's comments, delivered to a roaring crowd in Castel Gandolfo:
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!"
It's all about the shoes.
As Benedict XVI spends his final hours as pope, Mexican media are focused on the pontiff's footwear.
The Vatican said this week that Benedict would abandon his signature ruby red shoes in retirement and wear a comfortable brown pair he was given in the city of Leon when he visited Mexico last year. Leon is a renowned shoemaking center.
Today's headlines in Mexico include: "Benedict XVI will keep using Mexican shoes," and "Benedict XVI loves his shoes from Mexican craftsmen."
Minutes after the pope went back into the palace at Castel Gandolfo, the crowd of several thousand in the piazza outside has disappeared.
Many of the faithful have crammed into the two coffee bars on the square to warm up. Locals, meanwhile, headed home for dinner.
Swiss Guards are still standing at the entrance to the palace. But each is wearing a dark blue woolen mantle down to their knees over their colorful uniforms, trying to stay warm in the winter chill.
In less than 90 minutes, Pope Benedict XVI will be retired.
Benedict never visited Bolivia as pope, but impressed one bishop with his knowledge of the poor, landlocked South American nation.
The Rev. Eugenio Escarpellini is bishop of El Alto, a city at 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), where the elevation can put strain on the heart. He recalled meeting Benedict in Rome three years ago and, after telling him where he was from, hearing the pontiff ask, "How's your heart?"
"I was surprised at how knowledgeable he is," Escarpellini told Radio Fides.
Churches across Bolivia collected farewell messages for the pope in hundreds of ledgers and organized rosary-reciting sessions that were to last until a new pope is elected.
Even President Evo Morales, often critical of the Catholic hierarchy, had praise for the pontiff.
"We're not all alike, but the pope's questioning of humanity's problems has made me reflect and I express my solidarity," Morales said last week.
`LONG LIVE THE POPE!'
Benedict XVI was on the balcony at Castel Gandolfo for a little over a minute, speaking his last public words as pope.
"I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his journey," the 85-year-old told the crowd, wearing only a white robe in the chilly evening air.
They shouted back "Long live the pope!"
"Thank you, goodnight!" Benedict replied before going back inside the palace.
A few minutes later, aides came out on the balcony, pulled off the papal banner, rolled it up and brought it inside the palace. The glass doors to the balcony were quickly clicked shut and the white curtains behind them tightly drawn.
Within seconds, the crowd of a few thousand in the piazza dwindled to a few hundred.
THE POPE'S BROTHER
Benedict XVI's elder brother says his final day as pontiff on Thursday was more of a private matter than his big send-off.
Monsignor Georg Ratzinger told Germany's RTL television at his home in Regensburg, Germany, that Wednesday's farewell in St. Peter's Square was "the most important day for me." He says it was Benedict XVI's last encounter with the faithful "and with that, the essential has actually already happened."
He said: "Today is more private, a sort of an accessory matter, at least according to my point of view."
Georg Ratzinger, who is 89, was ordained on the same day in 1951 as his brother, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
LAST WORDS AS POPE
"Thank you, goodnight!" Pope Benedict XVI's final public comments as pope from the balcony at Castel Gandolfo.
"I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his journey." _ Pope Benedict XVI on the balcony at Castel Gandolfo.
AMERICANS SAY GOODBYE
Catholic churches across the U.S. are opening their doors for prayer timed with the end of Pope Benedict XVI's reign.
At the Cathedral of St. Mary in Miami, school children will read from Benedict's writings, then blow out a candle in front of his photo at 2 p.m., the moment Benedict has chosen to step down.
At the same time, a Mass for the Election of a New Pope will be celebrated at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The Archdiocese of Detroit is planning a holy hour of prayer from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is in Rome and will vote in the conclave to elect the next pontiff, asked churches in his archdiocese to ring bells for eight minutes starting at 1:52 p.m. to honor Benedict's ministry.
POPE ON THE BALCONY
As Pope Benedict XVI appears on the balcony at Castel Gandolfo, people in the crowd below start screaming his name. He must wait before he can even speak to them.
THE POPE SPEAKS
Benedict XVI greets the faithful for the last time as pope from the balcony of the papal retreat.
As a helicopter whirs overhead, bells start ringing more furiously than before. The crowd in the Castel Gandolfo square starts cheering and chanting, "Benedetto, Benedetto" in rhythm.
THE PAPAL RETREAT
The Pope has arrived at the papal estate in Castel Gandolfo, as crowds in the town square cheer and wave flags.
BELLS IN ROME
Bells are tolling in Rome as the papal helicopter leaves Vatican, flies toward the Castel Gandolfo papal retreat.
The pope's loyal secretary Georg Gaenswein was seen weeping as he accompanied Benedict in his final walk down a Vatican corridor.
The Pope's helicopter lands at the pad in Castel Gandolfo, where he is greeted by well-wishers.
A final tweet from the first pope to have his own Twitter account, (at)Pontifex, sent shortly before his departure from the Vatican: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
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