Pope Benedict celebrates his last public Mass at St Peters

Pope Benedict celebrated his last Mass as pope in St Peters today.

The weary pope said his public farewell to his flock by presiding over the traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy and by receiving the ashes on his head, a reminder to him that while infallible he is still one of us.

In his homily, Benedict seemed to criticise recent infighting among clerics inside the Vatican.

Emphasising the intrinsic communitarian dimension of faith, and of the Church, Benedict said the church is supposed to lift up the face of Christ, but, he said, this face is sometimes “disfigured” by “faults against unity” and by “divisions within the clergy.”

“The true disciple does not serve himself or the public, but the Lord, in simplicity and generosity.”

“Our witness [as Christians] will always be more effective the less we seek our own glory”, the pontiff said.

The apparent realisation that this was Benedict’s final public mass meant the mood during Mass inside St Peter’s was somber, but it quickly erupted into a rousing, minutes-long standing ovation as Benedict left for the last time.

With his voice breaking in emotion, Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the pontiff at the end of Mass,”We wouldn’t be sincere, Your Holiness, if we didn’t tell you that there’s a veil of sadness on our hearts this evening”.

“Thank you for having given us the luminous example of the simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” Bertone said, quoting Benedict’s own words when he first appeared on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square after he was elected pope.

“Viva il papa!” the crowd yelled as Benedict stepped off the altar.

The Vatican announced yesterday the Conclave of Cardinals to elect a new pope would not start until March 15.


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