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Pope Benedict Holds Last Public Mass

Pope Benedict XVI blesses faithful at the end of his weekly general audience at the Paul VI hall at the Vatican on February 13.
Pope Benedict XVI has held his last scheduled public mass as pontiff.

The pope, who has announced he will step down at the end of the month, presided over Ash Wednesday services inside the packed St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period of penitence before Easter.

During his weekly audience at the Vatican earlier on February 13, Benedict said he was stepping down for "the good of the church."

He said he was aware of the gravity of his decision but also of his diminishing spiritual and physical strength.

The 85-year-old pontiff surprised the world with his announcement on February 11 that he would give up the leadership of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on February 28.

His successor is expected to be elected by the end of March.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters