Feb 27 2013 By Cheryl Mullin
Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict’s final master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.
With chants of “Benedetto!” erupting every so often, the mood was far more buoyant than during the pope’s final Sunday blessing. It recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
Benedict has said he decided to retire after realising that, at 85, he simply did not have the “strength of mind or body” to carry on. He will meet cardinals for a final time tomorrow, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
There at 8pm the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over – for now.
Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict’s successor were in St Peter’s Square for his final audience.
Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting on Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to elect the next pope.
But the faithful in the crowd were not so concerned with the future; they wanted to savour the final moments with the pope they have known for eight years.
“I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church,” said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old housewife who travelled by train from Lugo in central Italy with 60 members of her parish.
“There’s nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won’t leave us without a guide.”