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Pope Benedict XVI Formally Ends Pontificate

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he appears for the last time at the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo
Benedict XVI has formally retired as pope after nearly eight years at the helm of the Catholic Church.

The papacy became officially vacant at 1900 GMT on February 28 in keeping with Benedict’s wishes.

The pontiff was earlier flown by helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence near Rome.

The 85-year-old announced his decision to resign on February 11, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years, because of his failing health.

He appeared at a window overlooking the public square in Castel Gandolfo to deliver his final public farewell to a cheering crowd.

"As you know today is different to previous ones. I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m. After that I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth," Benedict said.

Benedict's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will be in charge of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics until a new pope is elected next month.

In a farewell meeting with cardinals, the pontiff urged them to work "in unity" to elect his successor.

"I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that the Holy Spirit may be with you as you elect the new pope. May the Lord guide you. There is a new pope among you to whom today I declare my unconditional reverence and obedience," Benedict said.

In his retirement, Benedict is expected to retire to a monastery inside Vatican City

The German pontiff, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, will continue to be known as Benedict XVI with the new title of "pope emeritus."

His "Fisherman's Ring," which contains the pope's name and is impressed to validate certain documents, is to be destroyed.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
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