Sede Vacante: The seat of Peter is empty

Pope Benedict XVI’s final trip as pope was a 15-minute helicopter ride from the Vatican to the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo.

He was joined in the Italian government chopper by his personal secretary and assistant secretary, his personal physician, his new valet and an official of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household.

Joining the Swiss Guards in the courtyard were dozens of bishops, monsignors, priests, nuns and laypeople who work in the Vatican Secretariat of State and other offices nearby.

The pope greeted his vicars for Vatican City and Rome — Cardinals Angelo Comastri and Agostino Vallini — before using his to cane walk down a few steps into the courtyard. He was greeted with applause.

As soon as the pope’s car pulled away, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica began tolling their farewell. Driven to the helipad in the Vatican Gardens, his flight to Castel Gandolfo began at 5:07 p.m.

The pope arrived in a helicopter from the Vatican and rode by car through the fields and formal gardens of the papal villa before reaching the residence.

As soon as he entered the residence, the pope went upstairs and, standing on the balcony overlooking the main square, he greeted the crowd.

“Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and by your friendship, which does me such good,” he told them.

“You know that for me, today is different than the days that have gone before. You know that I am no longer supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church — until 8 o’clock I will be, but not after that.”

“I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told them. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he told them.

Pope Benedict thanked the people for their support and asked them to continue to pray and work for the good of the church, too.

“With all my heart, I impart my blessing,” he told them, before giving a simple blessing, in Italian, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Just after the pope arrived, two Swiss Guards stood at the main doors of the residence and two more stood just inside. They closed the doors at 8am New Zealand time and returned to the Vatican, since their job is to guard the pope.

Sede Vacante, the seat of Peter is now vacant.

Earlier in the day Benedict met with all the Cardinals and vowed “unconditional obedience” to his successor.

“Among you there is also the future pope, to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence… Let the Lord reveal the one he has chosen,” he said.


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